Lawmakers balking at slots

December 12, 1997


Staff Writer

A move in the Maryland General Assembly to put the issue of slot machine gambling before voters next year is drawing little support among area lawmakers.

"I think I was elected to make that decision, quite frankly," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Like Munson, Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said the legislature would be the best venue to settle the slot machine issue.

"I always feel referendums have a tendency for us to shirk our duties somewhat," Poole said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has vowed to veto any bill that permits slot machines in the state. That has left some members of the legislature pondering a constitutional amendment allowing legalized gambling, which could be placed on the ballot next year.


Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, a member of the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee, said the latest gambling proposals center on placing slot machines at the state's horse racing tracks, and at some other sites. A portion of the proceeds from slots would go to the state and local governments, and be directed to education, McKee said.

But with the lottery already contributing $361 million a year to state programs, some wonder if the addition of slots would place too much government reliance on an uncertain source of income.

"I'm just concerned about gambling as a whole and using that revenue for Maryland," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Although none of the proposed slot locations is in Washington County, Munson said he has concerns that their presence in the state could steer dollars away from local tip jar gaming, which funds county nonprofit groups.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said if there is a referendum, he would like to see a provision added that would allow counties to decide for themselves if they want gambling in their communities.

McKee said he, too, has concerns about the actual benefits and potential harm of slots in the state, but added that the politically charged issue might be better left to a referendum.

But it might never make it that far. An amendment would require 85 of 141 votes in the House of Delegates and opponents could stage a filibuster in the Senate, where 29 of 47 votes is needed for approval.

Munson said he is confident there would be a filibuster, and he would participate.

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