Maryland link runs all the way to Vegas

Sep 9, 2003 12:07 AM



   Edward O. Wayson and Peter Wagner may not be headline names on Las Vegas marquees, but you can bet with assurance that they are known by the right people in this town.

   Mr. Wayson works as a Maryland lobbyist for both Steve Wynn and for concession giant Delaware North of Buffalo, NY. 

   Mr. Wagner may be the most ingenious, innovative and successful gambler in North America, and certainly is one of the biggest.

   Both men were in the news last week.

   Wayson, who works the state capitol building in Annapolis, Maryland,

came up with proposed legislation that he floated to Maryland’s legislators, hoping to break the logjam on slots in that state that are of interest to Las Vegas gambling operations and possibly life and death for Maryland’s two thoroughbred and two harness tracks. 

   Wayson’s idea — and he says it was his and not Steve Wynn’s or Jerry Jacobs’ at Delaware North — is to pool the interests of the potential competing sides and legalize slots at nine locations in Maryland, creating both racinos and casinos.  The major tracks would get 3,000 each.  Four non-track “destination resorts”  (does that have a Steve Wynn flavor?)   would get 3,500 slots and 250 table games. 

   There is something for everyone on this Christmas tree.  The city of Baltimore would get a casino, western Maryland would get one, local governments and horsemen’s purses and programs for problem gamblers would be cut in, and an improvement program for Pimlico also would be included.  Steve Wynn and Delaware North presumably might greet their lobbyist’s novel idea warmly, but the man who earlier this year showed that he controls the future of slots in Maryland when he killed the idea — speaker of the House Michael Busch --did not.  Busch’s reaction to the new proposal was clear:  “While it might be a great venue in Atlantic City or Vegas, I don’t think the state of Maryland is quite ready for that yet.”

   While Wayson was cooking up original stew in Annapolis, Peter Wagner was living comfortably in Las Vegas, having moved here from the colder climes of Fargo, North Dakota, where he contributed mightily to the economic welfare of that distant land.

   Mr. Wagner was, it turns out, the mystery man who developed his own hugely successful computerized wagering system and ran it from a grubby gambling den called Racing Services, operated by a very smart and very lovely lady named Susan Bala.

   For several years money poured forth from Racing Services into the racetracks of America — tons of it — and most of it was betting being generated by an unknown computer genius few knew, and those few did not talk about.  He was rumored to be the man who turned Gulfstream Park upside down a few years ago with last minute computerized betting.  A North Dakota legislator says Wagner bet $130 million of the $140 million a year wagered in North Dakota.    Everything went swimmingly until Ms. Bala fell behind — way behind — in her taxes, owing some $1.8 million to the North Dakota racing commission, and another $5.8 million to the state, according to North Dakota officials.  She paid the commission, but apparently could not come up with the money for the state, which took over Racing Services. 

   Before this happened, Mr. Wagner headed south, to Vegas, telling North Dakota  authorities that everything he did was perfectly legal,  and  “the fact is that I opened my personal history and tax records to your office two years ago before I even started betting.  For approximately two years”¦.I have wagered substantial monies which have generated significant contributions to taxes to the state of North Dakota, to the horsemen and the racing industry and to charity. 

   An enterprising young lady reporter for the Fargo Forum figured out that legislators and the attorney general must know who the mystery man was, and she asked for his name under public information laws.  She got it, and called Peter Wagner in Las Vegas. 

   He was pleasant, she said, but told her he wouldn’t talk to her.  When she told him she was writing a story about him, he gave her a gambler’s perfect response. 

    “Good luck,” he said, and hung up.