BALTIMORE -- Maryland voters have approved legalizing slot machines.
The constitutional amendment allows up to 15,000 slot machines in five locations, with half the proceeds set aside for the state's public schools.
The sites are in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties, the city of Baltimore, and on state property in Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland.
The vote comes after years of stalled legislation in the General Assembly on one of the most divisive issues in Maryland politics.
Voter Bill White said he struggled with his decision. While he wants more money for the state's public schools, he couldn't bring himself to support a measure allowing a third of the money to go to the owners of slots parlors.
"I came to the conclusion that slot machines are a tax on poor people ... and I just don't feel right about it," White said after voting at Annapolis Middle School.
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But it wasn't a hard decision for Diane Brown, of Severna Park, who has had three children go through the public school system.
"They need every penny they can get," Brown said of the state's schools.
About half of the money would be set aside for education, with about a third going to slot machine operators.
For opponents, the toughest part of the ballot question was the impact it could have on people who are struggling economically but willing to risk what little they have on long-shot jackpots.
"I feel it's an addiction that can get overwhelming," said Roger Pastrana in Annapolis.
But supporters noted neighboring states have slot machines that lure Marylanders.
"If we're pumping up their revenues, we might as well take care of our own kids here," said Pamela Marshall in Hagerstown, about 40 miles from Charles Town, W.Va., where a horse racing track has slots.
Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley included slot machines as part of his plan to address a structural deficit. Worsening economic conditions have created annual budget deficits in the area of $1 billion for the next several years.
The state could receive $90 million for the next fiscal year through the sale of slot machine licenses. Once slots are fully operational in fiscal year 2013, slots could generate as much as $660 million annually for the state, according to estimates by state budget analysts.