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Residents want voices to be heard on slots

January 13, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND and CANDICE BOSELY

andrear@herald-mail.com
martinsburg@herald-mail.com

As the debate about legalizing slot machines at Maryland racetracks heats up in Annapolis, state residents were asked whether they support a referendum on the issue.

Most people interviewed from Frederick, Md., to Hagerstown on Saturday said they wanted their voices to be heard at the state capitol.

"We're a democracy," said Dan West, 18, of Hagerstown. "The people should have a voice."

Joe Twigg, 46, of Cumberland, Md., agreed that voters should be able to decide the issue.

"Take politics completely out of it," he said.

Harold Jacobson of Frederick backs a referendum if only to slow down the legislative process now in motion regarding slot machines, he said.

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Jacobson fears that slots might be legalized so quickly that gambling revenues won't be equitably funneled to such worthy causes as education, he said.

"I'm afraid they're going to rush it through and mess it up," said Jacobson, 67. "I'd say 'yes' to a referendum just to slow things down and make sure it's done right."

Doris Porterfield of Hagerstown supports a referendum to gauge popular opinion about legalized gambling at racetracks, she said.

"I'm just curious as to what the people would say about it," said Porterfield, 79.

Larry Benton, 51, of Smithsburg, said voters should "most definitely" get to decide.

"That's the way we determine our destiny, isn't it?" he said.

Many people interviewed said that, given the opportunity, they would vote "no" to allowing slot machines in their home state.

"Personally, I don't believe in gambling," said Ron Lutz of Hagerstown.

"I don't think it's good practice," said Anne Bohrer of Hagerstown.

"A lot of people use that money thinking they might win, when they could use that money for something for their families," said Bohrer, who would give her age only as being in her 40s. "People could use their money for better purposes."

"It's an addiction," said Yolanda Burns, 22, of Frederick. "I would vote 'no' to slots because I think gambling is bad."

Marcia Henderson agreed with Burns that slot machines might hurt communities more than they will help state coffers.

"I didn't vote for Erlich and I wouldn't vote for his slot machines," said Henderson, 33, of Hagerstown.

Rodney Schmidt got fired up about the issue while waiting for his brother outside a McDonald's restaurant in Myersville, Md.

"Go to Charles Town (W.Va.) if you want to gamble," said Schmidt, of Hagerstown. "Don't bring it to Maryland."

He watched a nearby casino at a Native American reservation destroy the moral fiber of his old community in Washington state, he said.

"Gambling brings the community down. It's no good," said Schmidt, 29. "People were spending their whole paychecks on the slot machines. And there was a problem with alcoholism and drugs. There has to be another solution to this state's problems."

Although Kathy Goldberg said she sometimes ventures to Charles Town Races & Slots to play, she'd vote "no" on the referendum. Her husband formerly worked at the racetrack, and saw the consequences of gambling.

"Gambling seems like a fever, an addition," she said.

Several local residents said legalizing slot machines might be the best fix for the state's budget deficit. Lynn Dawson of Frederick would rather see slots in Maryland than watch state residents lose valuable human services programs because of a lack of money, she said.

Dawson, 42, trusts state lawmakers to do the right thing for their constituents.

"We elected our representatives to make responsible choices," she said. "I think they should do what they think is best for the citizens."

Arlene Perrell, 71, of LaVale, Md., said she would vote "yes" if the issue were on her ballot.

"Might as well keep the money here," she said. "Heaven knows they need it."

Dan Dwyer, 47, of Hagerstown, said he would have no qualms if slots appeared in Maryland.

"I don't mind any type of victimless vice at all," he said.

Jennifer Joyce of Thurmont, Md., agreed that slots could bring much-needed revenue to the state, but she would like to have a say in determining where the machines would be placed.

"I don't think people want them all over the place," said Joyce, 46. "Racetracks are one thing. People go there to gamble, and if they want to spend their money on slots, that's their prerogative. I think the money could help the state."

But Joyce said she doesn't want to see gambling spread beyond track venues.

"I really don't want to see slot machines in Ocean City," she said. "That's our family vacation spot."

Andy Mazzocchi, 19, said he loves slot machines, and recently won $80 at Charles Town.

He hopes "maybe a little casino or something" will open in the Hagerstown area, where he lives.

As a child, Harry Kemp said he remembers going to play the slot machines with his father in Waldorf, Md.

"Why did they stop? There had to be a reason," said Kemp, 41. "If the money's going for a good cause, why not bring it back?"

Thomas Starliper of Bethesda, Md., took a break from his lunch at a Frederick deli to discuss the slots issue. Although Starliper said he would like to see a referendum, he doubts it will happen.

"I think Maryland will get slots whether the majority of voters want them or not," said Starliper, 63. "We might just have to wait to be heard at the next election."

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