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Try your luck at embracing a billionaire

August 03, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

The biggest lottery in state history is taking shape, and even though you and I can't play, that doesn't mean we can't get involved.

The jackpot will be measured not in mere millions, but in billions, and so exclusive is this lottery that only six to 10 men will be eligible to buy a ticket.

This is proper, since all of them are having a hard go of it and could use a boost. The group includes known paupers such as Peter G. Angelos, William Rickman Jr. and Joseph De Francis. Other players include the developer of National Harbor, a Canadian auto parts mogul and a chap who made a fortune selling hamburger buns to McDonald's.

Quite a lineup; the only one missing is C. Montgomery Burns.

The prize of this lottery is the right to set up slot-machine casinos, which the Legislature hopes to legalize to forestall the State of Maryland Bankruptcy Celebration.

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I started to really take interest in this tycoon catfight the second Angelos arrived on the scene. If Angelos comes sniffing around, you know there's some serious jack on the table. Angelos doesn't show up at no fireman's picnic where the grand prize is a raffled quilt.

I suppose Angelos took a look at the stunning success he's made out of his Baltimore Orioles this season and said, "My work here is done," and is now looking for a new, Chesapeake Bay-sized cash cow to milk.

True story: Just two weeks ago a friend was idly musing about Angelos, noting that his revenue streams from tobacco and asbestos litigation weren't what they used to be, and wondering what would he would turn to next to put bread on the table for his family.

Bingo.

Well, not bingo, but - you know.

In most lotteries you have to play to win, but here you have to pay to win - pay in the form of campaign contributions, and true to form, our contestants are not shy about ponying up.

The Washington Post pointed out that De Francis alone gave $200,000 to a national Democratic committee overseen by Senate President Mike Miller.

According to the Post, "When asked whether appeals from influential personalities have played a role in determining where slots should go, Miller was emphatic that they had not. 'Absolutely, positively, unequivocally, no,' he said."

Or, to put it another way, "Yes."

So what's left for the rest of us? Well, nothing, except of course for the pure entertainment of watching the tycoons, stripped of their dignity, chasing each other around a tree.

I guess that's how they got to be rich, though. You or I wouldn't sit back and say to ourselves, "You know, $894 million in a money market down at Old National just may not be enough. If I don't add another $312 million to the pot each year, I may be eating cat food out in back of a Dumpster."

This is why we don't have any money and they do. And it's why they can't stop themselves from yelling "pull" when they see another billion sitting in the ole, easily hustled, government skeet trap.

I kind of feel sorry for them, actually. If you're always hunting bucks that hard, do you ever get a chance to relax? If you fail to get the state slot millions, what hurts worse, losing out on the money or the knowledge that there are four or five other people out there who are more influential than you?

It's gotta be a hard life. This is why I strongly urge you to participate in my new "Adopt a Billionaire" campaign. Just to let them know that, no matter what happens, they will be loved. To recap the list of players:

Peter Angelos: Attorney, owner of the Orioles.

William Rickman Jr., Potomac developer.

Joseph De Francis, Maryland Jockey Club president.

Milton Peterson, National Harbor developer.

Frank Stronach, owner of Pimlico and Laurel racetracks.

Don Barden, Detroit entrepreneur.

John Paterakis Sr., Baltimore bakery magnate.

Now, simply pick a tycoon from the above list and send him cookies. Hold him to your bosom and tell him you care. Assure him it doesn't matter whether he gets the slots license or not because you will be there for him.

And maybe in return he'll make you a pit boss.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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