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Delegate moves to put slots in hands of voters

February 12, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

In an effort to slow the train bringing slot machines to Maryland, a Washington County lawmaker has introduced legislation that would let voters decide the matter.

Del. John P. Donoghue is calling for a referendum that would delay the debate on slots this year.

If passed by three-fifths of the Maryland General Assembly, Donoghue's bill would stall Gov. Robert Ehrlich's plan to use $395 million from slot machine licensing fees and revenues to help fix the state's budget deficit next year.

Donoghue, D-Washington, said the legislature shouldn't rush to legalize slots and criticized Ehrlich's plan for failing to study the impact of gambling on the poorer communities where there are racetracks.

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"I think it's a major policy decision, and it was one that did not involve the input of the people," Donoghue said.

Like Ehrlich's plan, Donoghue's bill calls for at least half of slot machine profits to go to public education.

Ehrlich, who ran his campaign on legalizing slot machines, has said that his November election win constituted a statewide referendum on the issue.

But Donoghue said many of the communities that would host slot machines, including those near a proposed racetrack just west of Washington County in Little Orleans, are opposed to them.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., who campaigned on an anti-slots platform, defeated House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. in that election district.

Myers said Tuesday he is so firmly against slots that most lobbyists pushing gambling interests have not even bothered to knock on his door.

"It's such a terrible way to solve our revenue problem," said Myers, R-Allegany/Washington.

When business slows in his construction company, Myers said, he looks at ways to cut costs instead of increasing the rates to his customers.

Myers said the state can do the same by cutting wasteful spending.

Also Tuesday, a Washington County bar owner came to Annapolis to voice his concerns about legalizing slot machines at racetracks.

Lou Thomas said expanded gambling might hurt Washington County's tip jar gambling, which raises millions for charity.

The owner of the Yellow House in Boonsboro, Thomas is a member of the Maryland Licensed Beverage Association and co-chair of Stop Slots in Maryland.

"It seems kind of quick to push it through without researching the impact it's going to have on businesses," Thomas said.

Restaurants and clubs could suffer from slot machines, Donoghue said.

Among the members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, there is little enthusiasm for slots.

Only two of the eight members, Del. Robert A. McKee and Del. Richard Weldon, are leaning toward the idea.

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