Maryland slot hopes dim

Aug 17, 2004 6:54 AM

Maryland’s hopes of getting slot machine legislation may have been killed last week when the proposal’s biggest opponent developed a plan of his own that was described by an adversary as a way to kill the measure.

House Speaker Michael Busch, who personally used his political power to prevent the Assembly from voting on a Senate-passed bill that followed the will of Gov. Robert Ehrlich in placing slots at the state’s racetracks and off-track betting centers, offered his plan that would place the matter before the voters in November.

However, the constitution-modifying referendum would restrict slots to six counties and the casinos would be placed on state-owned property. The state would then put out the slots licenses to competitive bidding among prospective slots venue operators.

Senate President Thomas V. Miller, who guided the original slots bill through his legislative body, saw little chance that the House bill would pass. "You never say never," he was quoted as saying. "But, it’s going to be up to the governor."

Recently, Gov. Ehrlich addressed a gathering of Republicans in Delaware. He began his address with the remark, "Folks, I’ll let you know I’m here in Delaware to visit Maryland’s money." He admitted, however, that unless a compromise could be reached, the slots proposal could be in jeopardy.

Revenues from slot machines have been credited with saving the horse racing industry in Delaware and West Virginia and recently the lawmakers in Pennsylvania passed legislation that will permit as many as 61,000 slot machines.

Maryland’s horse industry is expected to suffer from competition from these so-called racino states where purse money has been raised dramatically.

Charles Fenwick, Jr., addressing a gathering of horse enthusiasts at the Maryland Horse Industry Forum, said that without the addition of slots revenue to improve the purse structure at Maryland’s racetracks, "the industry can’t survive."