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Slots money is great equalizer

March 06, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Where else but Maryland, or perhaps Oregon, could slot machines be turned into a racial issue?

"I'm not supporting making a bunch of white men rich who are owners of the racetracks ... when African-Americans and women are not players in this," said House Appropriations Chairman Pete Rawlings.

This came after the governor had accused the Speaker of the House of "playing the race card."

To which, were I Mike Busch, I would have responded "Well of course I played the race card, it's a race track, isn't it?

To ease concerns that blacks were being shut out of the profiteering, a hastily assembled group of potential owners came to the forefront, including - and I am so not kidding about this - Julius Erving and Franco Harris.

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This whole shebang is getting weirder by the furlong.

Right out of the gate, the slots issue didn't exactly show Ehrlich's organizational skills in a good strong light. When asked to detail the administration's slot proposals, the number of answers you got was in direct, one-to-one proportion to the number of staff members you asked.

You got the sense of Ehrlich's aides scribbling out slots legislation on cocktail napkins during the committee hearings, scattering revenue formulas around like grass seed in hopes that one of them would take.

Then there are the track owners, who can't possibly make a go of slots unless they get to keep 99 percent of the profits for themselves. I could have sworn the owner of the planned track west of here in Little Orleans said, at one time, that his venture was all about the horses. You know, good clean family gambling. Now, it seems he won't even bother to build the track if he can't have slots and the lion's share of the profits.

Hey, who's that entering stage right? Why it's former House Speaker Cas Taylor, supporting slots and going to bat for his old friend Mike Busch, which is curious since Busch opposes slots even though they are being pushed by his very good friend Ehrlich, or at least they were very good friends until Ehrlich basically called Busch a racist for some reason and now relations are somewhat strained.

And there's state Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, her normally perfectly coifed blonde hair akimbo as she rolls around in the mud bog with everyone else, frantically clawing for gambling dollars that once were thought to be going straight to the kids but now may end up elsewhere.

And now the gambling horse may be out of the barn since slot machines may leak out of the racetracks and show up at, say, the state fairgrounds in Timonium, which is disturbing to some people since slots are not "family gambling" and they're afraid little Chauncy may set out for the rabbit pens and end up with a $2,000-a-day Joker Poker habit.

I think it's a great thought that Dr. J and the scoring end of the Immaculate Reception will finally, at long last, be able to rekindle their long-lost love affair with the equestrian arts. I love the idea of Franco Harris sitting in his owner's box wearing a monocle and sipping a mint julep as he urges his mount ever onward.

There are a lot of things to love about money, but my favorite thing is its capacity to make blithering fools out of normal, rational people. Put slots on the table and the hundreds of millions of dollars they will raise, and all dignity goes right out the window, leaving all parties to fight like stickpinned roosters. Money can turn deft and graceful statesmen into hogs on ice. Smarmy businessmen who maintain a modicum of decorum in their public personas instantly revert back to their feral roots and Hydeian manners.

From black to white, from rich to poor. From lofty idealists to gutter-licking barrel pickers, money, bless it, truly succeeds where everything else fails.

It makes everyone equal. Undesirably equal perhaps, but equal nonetheless.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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