Lawmakers keep eye on shift in slots

August 26, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

Washington County lawmakers say they will keep a close eye on the statewide slot machine debate, which seems to have shifted from whether to legalize slot machines to where to put them.

Slots opponent Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said he'll continue trying to block the gambling devices.

Local lawmakers who support slots in some form said they'll watch the debate on an issue that is bound to return during the next legislative session.

Myers and Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, are on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is studying the issue through expert briefings and a statewide series of public hearings.


The committee is scheduled to come to Western Maryland on Nov. 5, although a time and place have not been set.

"We're to go where the input and the testimony takes us," McKee said.

McKee and several other local Republicans supported Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's plan earlier this year to put 10,500 slot machines at Rosecroft, Pimlico and Laurel racetracks. A proposed track in Allegany County, west of Washington County, would have been eligible for 1,000 machines.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch almost single-handedly defeated the proposal, which he called hastily conceived.

But Busch has been hinting that he's open to slots, along with possible tax increases, as a way to plug the state's budget deficit.

Busch, D-Anne Arundel, is the reason the Ways and Means Committee is looking into slots. He has discussed the possibility of putting slots at tourist destinations and having the state run them.

"I'm not sure if Michael Busch is playing games or Michael Busch is serious about slots," McKee said.

McKee said he's not sold on the idea of putting slots at destination sites, in part because that won't benefit the horse-racing industry that Ehrlich was trying to aid with his proposal.

McKee said he could support slots at Ocean Downs Racetrack, which was not in Ehrlich's proposal.

Del. Richard Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, said he is willing to vote for slot machines even though he doesn't like the idea of the state relying on gambling money.

But he would not support slots at off-track betting parlors, he said.

All three lawmakers said they will withhold judgment until they see a specific proposal.

Del. John P. Donoghue said the legislature is wise to look at all revenue-increasing options during these times of budget crunches.

"Given the seriousness of the situation, we need to look at everything, put everything on the table," he said. "If we want the budget and want the services, we've got to find a way to do it."

Donoghue, D-Washington, said he is undecided about depending on slot machine money.

"Philosophically, I still struggle with telling students in the school system that the quality of their education depends on how many people play slot machines," he said.

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