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Battle lines drawn in fight over slots

Jan 28, 2003 4:20 AM

While Mayor Oscar Goodman fumes and fusses over the hypocrisy of the National Football League’s stand on keeping Las Vegas off the Super Bowl telecast ”” after all, virginity and purity are wonderful attributes, particularly in a sport like professional football, and must be protected ”” a different donnybrook is under way out east, in Maryland.

The sideshow there is the political cockfight over ”” what else? ”” slot machines, the mortar that holds Vegas together and hopefully is going to hold horse racing in Maryland together as well.

The new governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich Jr., campaigned on a platform that included slots for Maryland’s tracks, and he is holding firm on his promise.

And how. Ehrlich is proposing 4,500 slots each for Maryland’s three major race tracks ”” Pimlico and Laurel Racecourses, the thoroughbred operations, and Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Port Washington, MD, on the Washington, DC beltway, just outside the nation’s capital.

Much has already been made, in Baltimore and Washington newspapers, of the fact that 4,500 slots are more than a number of major Vegas venues have, and that Ehrlich’s proposed allocation may be a trifle high.

Their protestations have not gone unnoticed by Democrats ”” and even some Republicans ”” in the Maryland legislature, which now has to consider the proposed program of the first Republican governor in Maryland in 34 years.

As might be expected, there are arguments on both sides of the aisle, and also some very strange bedfellows outside of the legislature.

Barkeeps and faith healers do not normally bed down together, but they are snuggled up currently in Maryland, for vastly different reasons, obviously.

The bartenders want in on the act, and the faith-based groups don’t want the act to take place. So they have joined hands, in an unholy alliance if ever there was one, and are opposing the new governor’s proposal. From the booze side of the alliance, it is much like the Vegas outlook on Internet wagering. We don’t want it unless we can have part of it.

From the pulpit’s point of view, it is one more indication of the corrupting of society. Killing Iraquis is okay if that’s what the president and his gory crew want, but confining slots to race tracks, where people already go to gamble, will bring down the wrath of Heaven.

This last week a new voice was heard. The Black Caucus in the legislature spoke up, and said that if the slots bill were going to pass, it would do so only with their support, and that without a place at the table for African-Americans in the Maryland slots picture that support very well might not be forthcoming.

So Maryland has become a mini-battlefield. The tracks themselves aren’t totally satisfied with the governor’s plan. They wanted five tracks included in the distribution, the one left out in the Ehrlich proposal being Ocean Downs in the resort town of Ocean City. A small track to be built by the Rickman family in western Maryland is included in the Ehrlich plan, but will receive fewer slots than the Big Three. The governor omitted Ocean Downs not by oversight but because of a campaign promise to the locals in that area.

While this goes on in Maryland, Pennsylvania gears up for slots at tracks under its new governor, Ed Rendell. The gloves have not come off there yet, but the bell for round one hasn’t rung, either. And in New York, where slots are being challenged in court, the Indians have cars lining the streets of Niagara Falls, the occupants waiting to park and get in the brand new Seneca facility there. Honeymoon here with quarter slots. What a romantic rallying cry.

One newspaper recently carried a story saying that once the legal challenge is out of the way and slots are in place throughout the state, no citizen will be more than a half hour away from a casino, or mini-casino, or racino, or whatever.

It may not be Vegas East, but it is going to be a different landscape than seen before. Perhaps no bare bosoms, but plenty of chance to gamble. We’ll see soon which has the greater appeal.