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Slot plan Magna-fied

Jul 23, 2002 4:34 AM

The Canadian-based Magna Entertainment is hoping to use its influence to place slot machines at Pimlico and Laurel Racetracks in Maryland.

Magna is wagering $50 million by banking that the two major tracks in the state will include slot play in order to fill the decline attendance mark.

In Delaware and West Virginia, slot machines have rejuvenated the racing business and poured millions of dollars into civic projects. Gamblers spent $3.5 billion on slot machines at Delaware Park and two nearby harness tracks.

The situation could come down to the race for governor in Maryland. Robert Ehrlich is in favor of including slots. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend hopes not. One of the two will be the next governor of Maryland.

Michael Olesker, in a column for SunSpot.net, an on-line Maryland publication, sees Magna as taking a big chance throwing money into two big-name tracks that have seen better days.

"Facilities are decaying and purses falling depressingly behind tracks in nearby states," he said. "You walk into Pimlico on a normal day and a few thousand hardcore folks are there, staring numbly at television simulcasts, while outdoors there’s a sea of about 14,000 empty seats."

Maryland has balked at slots because Gov. Parris Glendening was caught taking illegal money from racetrack interests and had to distance himself from them.

Missouri draws bettors

The state of Missouri ranked among the top 10 states generating the most casino trips, despite not being a major population base.

In a study released by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., the St. Louis area generates about 5.7 million trips to casinos and the Kansas City area about 5.9 million trips. The study also found that casino gambling participation rates are lower than the national average east of the Mississippi River.

Harrah’s also found that the median household income of casino gamblers is 20 percent higher than of non-gamblers ($49,753 compared to $41,343). The state of Missouri is not among the top 10 nationally in population.