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This year has reminded Americans of two reasons they have to be grateful this Thanksgiving season.

One is that the election season is over. The second is that as maddening as the long campaign season can be, in the end every citizen past the age of 18 can have a voice in choosing who runs the government.

Short of threatening violence anyone can say just about anything they want about people in politics, a freedom not granted many millions of other people throughout the world.

But some voices speak louder than others about politicians and public issues. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the 2012 presidential and congressional elections cost a whopping $5.8 billion. Thatís an increase of 7 percent just from 2008.

Meanwhile, spending by outside groups totaled more than $750 million in the latest election cycle, according to the center.

Maryland, solidly in the Barack Obama camp, didnít see much of the presidential spending. The television ads we saw, and there were a lot of them, were aimed at the swing state of Virginia.

Where spending in Maryland stood out, however, was in regards to the statewide ballot issues. Spending on the three initiatives that garnered the most attention was in the $100 million range.

The two sides in the same-sex marriage fight totaled about $6 million, as of late October, with supporters outspending opponents by about 3-to-1. The group that headed up the Dream Act effort spent about $1.5 million, according to the most recent filing. Maryland voters approved both measures.

But the issue that proved to be the spending winner by a long shot pertained to expanded gambling in the state. The two sides — backed by gambling megacompanies — shelled out about $90 million before the voting started.

While broadcast stations in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., made out quite nicely from the increased advertising revenue, itís not as clear how much the general public gained from exposure to the ads, which centered largely around whether or not expanded gambling would add to the stateís education coffers and whether West Virginia was the mean neighbor everyone on the block should avoid.

At least Baltimoreís TV viewers now know former Raven great Jonathan Ogden, who served as a menacing sidekick to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in one pro-gambling ad, is alive and well.

Now that the voters have approved expanded gambling, those conflicting, but earnest-sounding, messages on whether the public schools in Maryland would benefit from table games statewide and a casino at National Harbor in Prince Georgeís County seem rather quaint. Those who paid for the messages on both sides were, after all, motivated by profit, not public service.

But hereís an interesting scenario to ponder: The amount of money spent by the gambling interests could have paid for four years of tuition for 450 Maryland students at an elite, private college. Or, it could have covered the full tuition costs for more than 3,100 in-state students at the University of Maryland, College Park.