Ehrlich says slots good for horse farms

February 10, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Robert Ehrlich on Wednesday attempted to ratchet up support for legalizing slot machine gambling in Maryland by telling a Senate committee that approval of his bill this year not only would provide money for school construction and education, but would help the environment.

How? By shoring up the horse racing industry, which in turn would preserve horse farms.

Making his third bid for slots approval, Ehrlich reminded the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that he had promised an additional $100 million a year would be dedicated to school construction if the slots legislation were passed.

"But there's another issue that's been somewhat underanalyzed," Ehrlich said, "and that's inappropriate development in the outer suburbs."

Strengthening business at the state's horse racing tracks, where Ehrlich's bill would locate most of the slot machines, would help preserve horse farms, he said.


"When those farms go, they're gone," he said. "Those farms are never to return."

Ehrlich noted that while the state approves programs to deal with development pressures, land use policies are contributing to the problem.

"As this industry slowly disappears, one day we're gonna wake up and say 'hey, we should have done something,'" Ehrlich said.

"Think about the money we would have had to work with if we'd passed this bill two years ago," he said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who serves on the Budget and Taxation Committee, predicted the committee could vote to advance the bill by Friday. If so, the full Senate could vote on it next week, he said.

Munson favors slots, particularly since this year's bill is tied directly to school construction. School capacity is at a "crisis" point in Washington County, he said.

Among those testifying in favor of slots were William M. Rickman Jr., who plans to build a racetrack in Little Orleans in Allegany County, and Louis Angelos, son of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, whose family is negotiating to buy Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County.

The racing industry "is facing extinction," Angelos told the committee. "Even to the casual observer, Maryland racing has been gradually but comprehensively weakening." He said other states have been proactive in adding slot machine gambling at racetracks.

Only one witness, a lobbyist representing a coalition of anti-gambling interests, testified against the bill.

The hearing was one occasion when Ehrlich and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, so vehemently at odds over reform of medical malpractice laws, appeared together. Miller, who favors slots, introduced the governor.

Ehrlich promised not to lobby those who have moral objections to slot machine gambling, but argued that the state had "crossed that threshold many, many years ago" when the state lottery was instituted.

While the Department of Legislative Services estimates state lottery sales would diminish by as much as $81 million by 2010 if slots were legalized, it also estimates gross revenues could reach $1.5 billion at that time.

Those estimates assume, however, that Virginia and Washington, D.C., will not legalize slots, that Pennsylvania will not expand slots beyond the facilities authorized in that state last year and that efforts to legalize casino-style gambling in West Virginia will be fruitless.

Senate Bill 205

The Herald-Mail Articles