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Md. lawmakers research slot machines

October 09, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - As Maryland delegates gathered outside the front entrance to the Charles Town Races, they watched a large group of Maryland residents step out of a tour bus and into the Silver Screen Gaming Room to play the video slot machines.

Maryland Del. Clarence Davis, D-East Baltimore City, pointed out the number of cars in the track's parking lot with Maryland license plates.

"That's a lot of revenue we could be using in Maryland," said Davis, one of about 30 state representatives and their aides who toured Charles Town Races Wednesday. They are studying video lottery gambling to see if it should be allowed at Maryland racetracks.

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State Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson, D-Montgomery, said she was impressed by the more than $18 million in renovations under way at the track.

"We have racetracks in Maryland that could use a face lift," Hixson said.

The Maryland tracks also need financial help, she said. Earlier this year, the state approved a $5 million bailout for Maryland tracks to help them survive.

"It's important for Maryland to look at what neighboring states are doing," Hixson said. "What do we do as a response?"

She said they are facing particularly tough competition with Delaware, which allows video gambling at its tracks.

Maryland tracks do not allow video lottery gambling, so the purses - the amount of money a horse can win in a race - are much higher in Delaware, allowing tracks there to attract better horses, Hixson said.

Roger R. Ramey, vice president of public affairs for the Charles Town Races, said that before video lottery started in Delaware, Charles Town and Delaware tracks would "share" horses.

But Delaware now offers purses of $160,000 a day because of all the money brought in by video gambling, Ramey said. Charles Town has not yet caught up to Delaware on video gambling, but already offers larger purses than last year, he said.

"All the tracks in West Virginia were in dire need of something to supplement them," Ramey said.

Jefferson County voters approved video lottery gambling last November.

Del. Bob McKee, R-Washington, said he thinks Maryland residents should get the chance to vote on allowing video lottery at the tracks.

"Even if I'm personally opposed (to gambling), I think the voters should have the right to speak," McKee said.

Hixson said Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening is opposed to broadening gambling in the state.

She said the issue probably will be discussed in the 1998 session of the General Assembly, but did not know when it could be brought to a referendum.

Charles Town Races officials said they have 400 machines in operation and are allowed by the state lottery commission to have up to 1,000 machines.

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