Proposition could bring slot machines to Md.

February 02, 1998

Proposition could bring slot machines to Md.

ANNAPOLIS (AP) - A powerful Maryland lawmaker on Monday proposed allowing voters to decide in November whether slot machines should be permitted at horse tracks and seven other locations statewide, including one in Western Maryland, with proceeds paying for public education.

Delegate Howard ''Pete'' Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee, proposed amending the state constitution to include slots if voters approve.

He said public schools and universities could receive $400 million more each year as a share of slots revenues.

''I think this level of (education) funding without taxes will not be available in my lifetime,'' Rawlings said.

Critics blasted his idea as the biggest expansion of gambling in state history.

''To use our children in this manner I find reprehensible,'' said Delegate Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel.

Bernie Horn, executive director of the grassroots group NO casiNO, said lawmakers should reject the proposal rather than relying on a referendum.


"We elect them to represent us and they should have the guts to do that," Horn said.

Industry representatives declined comment saying they had not seen the legislation.

Rawlings' amendment proposal makes approval more difficult in the General Assembly, where a three-fifths majority is required for adoption in the House and Senate. But an amendment does not require the signature of Gov. Parris Glendening, who threatened to veto any legislation expanding gambling.

Glendening issued a statement opposing the bill, which he said "will bring casinos to Maryland."

"We do not need gambling money," he said.

Other proposals for slots at Maryland race tracks have died in the House in the past two years. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, has said he would hold such a bill in committee rather than host a divisive debate over gambling in an election year.

Under the Rawlings bill, the Pimlico, Laurel and Rosecroft tracks could each house 2,000 electronic gambling devices. One location on the Eastern Shore and one location in either Washington, Allegany or Garrett counties could each have 2,000 machines. Each of the state's five off-track betting parlors could have 250 machines.

The sites in western Maryland and Eastern Shore could only be located in counties where a majority supports the referendum.

With the proceeds, Rawlings wants to create an Education Trust Fund to pay for full-day kindergarten, library funding and college scholarships. The fund would receive at least 42.5 percent of the proceeds from the tracks.

Slots operators would receive 47 percent of the proceeds. Race purses would get 9 percent, tourism promotion 1 percent and track licensees without slots 0.5 percent.

Based on an estimated $1.2 billion a year in proceeds by 2001, the Education Trust Fund would get $400 million and operators $442 million, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

Rawlings said Maryland education's share of slots revenue would be far greater than what Delaware and West Virginia allocate for public schools and colleges. The two states are widely seen as the biggest competitors to Maryland's racing industry.

Last year, Delaware divided $254 million with its horse tracks. West Virginia divided $82 million from slots with its horse and dog tracks. The share going to the state was much lower than in Maryland, with about 26 percent in Delaware and 30 percent in West Virginia.

State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and William Kirwan, president of the University of Maryland, College Park, will each testify in favor of the educational funding in the bill, Rawlings said.

Grasmick said the state Board of Education takes no position on revenue bills such as Rawlings is proposing. But she would support an Education Trust Fund to enhance school spending.

''I don't want it articulated that I'm supporting gambling,'' she said. ''With some sort of revenue, we'd support a trust.''

Rawlings said the state Lottery Agency would oversee the machines to prevent corruption by monitoring betting and payouts.

But critics warned that allowing slots could also invite organized crime into the state, as happened when slots were legal during the 1960s.

''That's ludicrous because the reason they took them out in the first place is all the graft and corruption,'' said Greenip, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which will review the proposal.

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