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Gaming goes Mid-Atlantic, but nation still resisting

Nov 12, 2002 12:46 AM

   Election Day showed that slots at racetracks are more than welcomed in Mid-Atlantic States, but not around the nation.

   Gubernatorial races proved favorable in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio, with the winning candidates all backing the addition of slot machines at racetracks to boost state income.

   The major coup occurred in Maryland, where voters elected their first Republican governor in more than 30 years as Robert Ehrlich defeated favored incumbent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

   The election of Ehrlich, who supports slots at tracks, heightens the possibility of Pimlico and Laurel to help erase a projected budget shortfall of more than $1.7 billion at Maryland tracks over the past two years.

   Magna Entertainment Corp., North America’s largest racetrack operation company, has a deal pending to acquire a majority interest in the Maryland Jockey Club.

   Pennsylvania received a boost with the election of Democratic nominee Ed Rendell, who defeated Rep. Mike Fisher. Both candidates were on record in favor of slots at racetracks.

   Ohio looks to be a better than average bet to have alternative gaming despite the win of anti-gambling Gov. Bob Taft to another term. Some lawmakers indicate they may have the clout to pass a slot bill and override a possible veto. In fact, the Ohio Senate and Means Committee will begin hearings this week on legalizing video slots at racetracks.

   The gaming news was less optimistic in Arizona, where only one of the three propositions passed. Voters overturned by nearly a 4-1 margin a proposal from Arizona racetracks such as Turf Paradise to operate slots. The plan to continue casino gambling on Indian reservations narrowly passed.

   Maine patiently waits

   Gaming referendums received support in southern Maine, raising hopes for a plan to build a $500 million casino showcase.

   The casino battle has taken the shape of a political campaign, with political action committees, behind the scenes strategizing and nasty rhetoric. Last week, casino critics demanded that gaming backers withdraw plans to bring “hardcore gambling” to Maine.

   Voters across the state, except for Sanford, rejected casinos. Sanford residents approved casinos by a 55-45 percent margin at the polls. Residents see casinos as adding more than 4,000 jobs to the Sanford area, with an average salary of $31,400 according to City Administrator John Granfield.

   Iowa seeks ruling change

   State Attorney General Tom Miller asked the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out an earlier ruling that could mean $112 million in tax refunds for several Iowa racetracks.

   The Iowa Supreme Court’s 4-3 vote in June reversed the higher tax rates, which could produce a windfall for tracks such as Prairie Meadows, according to the Des Moines Register. State leaders have indicated that a mass refund would cause severe damage to a lean budget.

   “When you get hit with $112 million, that’s a serious obligation,” said state treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. “Some way or another, the tracks are going to have to work with the state. If they’re real stubborn, you leave the state with no choice, but to turn around and raise the taxes right back.”

   Prairie Meadows attorney Tom Flynn said the racetracks have tried three times without success to negotiate a settlement with the attorney general’s office.

   Miss adds riverboat casino

   The Phoenix Leisure Corp. has moved its riverboat near Waveland, Miss., in preparation for a fall 2003 casino opening, according to an Associated Press report.

The riverboat had been moored for nearly two years at Port Bienville. The company received site approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission in 1999.

   Plans are for construction to begin in January on a 120-150 room hotel and two restaurants in addition to a casino that is priced at between $20-25 million. The casino will have 30,000 square feet of gambling space and can hold nearly 700 slot machines.

   Pechanga event set

   The 75-member tribes of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association will hold its eighth annual Western Indian Gaming Conference from Jan. 21-23 at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif.

   The annual event has become the largest and best attended Indian gaming conference in the Western United States.