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Opinions differ at slots hearing

November 06, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

As a Washington County teacher who owns a campground about five miles away from a proposed racetrack near Little Orleans, Md., Donna Wallizer said she would welcome the addition of slot machines at the track.

Gambling money would provide a much-needed boost to schools and an activity her campers would enjoy, she said.

"I don't gamble, so I don't pay the tax. I like that. It's taxation by choice," she said.

But Wallizer was one of the only local residents to testify in favor of slots at a public hearing Wednesday at Allegany College in Cumberland, Md.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee heard from dozens of people at the fifth of six hearings held around the state on the slots issue.

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Chairwoman Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, said the committee will decide next month whether to pursue legislation during the Maryland General Assembly session in January.

Many local residents said the track and its accompanying slot machines would destroy their rural way of life.

Kimi Scott McGreevy was unapologetic about thinking "not in my backyard."

"Nobody is going to look out for my backyard but me," she said.

Jackie Sams, president of the Allegany County League of Women Voters, said the state should not rely on gambling for its money.

"People say they have to play slots. There are people who have to use illegal drugs. We don't legalize, tax them and use it to fund public education," she said.

At least two religious leaders testified about the social ills such as divorce and domestic violence that result from gambling addiction.

The United Methodist Church considers gambling a "menace to society," and "destructive to good government," the Rev. Rick Jewell said.

"I certainly don't need any more work in my role as police and hospital chaplain," said

Slots supporters had a large contingent at the hearing as well.

Union representatives said the track would create much-needed jobs in Allegany County.

The Allegany County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Cumberland Committee both support slots at racetracks to bring economic development to the depressed area.

Maurie Watson of Hagerstown, who was a stable manager for a horse auction company in Prince George's County, said slots should be legalized at racetracks.

"I don't believe gambling is harmful any more than ice cream is harmful to people who are addicted to it," he said.

Slot machine players are mostly average law-abiding people, Wallizer said.

Wallizer pointed to her gray-haired mother in the audience as the typical slots player.

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