Slots bill returns for another battle

February 16, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland Senate is set to vote today on Gov. Robert Ehrlich's bill to legalize slot machine gambling in the state, just hours before the House version is to be heard in committee.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee approved the measure last week, and the full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill this morning. The Senate approved a nearly identical bill last year.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said Tuesday he plans to vote for the bill, as he did last year. Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Washington, has said he still opposes the bill.


The real battle will be in the House, where last year's bill failed on the last day.

A hearing on the House bill is scheduled this afternoon in the Ways and Means Committee. Two local lawmakers, Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington-Allegany, and Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, serve on that committee.

Myers opposes legalization of slot machines; McKee supports it.

Both have said House Speaker Michael E. Busch was responsible for the bill's failure last year, holding up consideration of the measure until the final day of the General Assembly session.

The bill died in their committee.

Most Washington County legislators support the slots bill, and Ehrlich has attempted to sweeten the pot this year by tying legalization of slots gambling to raising money for education.

If the slots bill passes, Ehrlich says, at least $100 million a year from the state's projected revenue would be earmarked for new school construction.

The bill would allow a total of 15,500 machines at six locations, most of which would be horse-racing tracks. One of Ehrlich's main arguments for approving the measure is that having slots at racetracks would help prop up Maryland's sagging racing industry.

Opponents plan a news conference at noon today, according to a release from StopSlots Maryland. They plan to pack the Ways and Means hearing this afternoon.

Slots opponents have also been busy lobbying individual legislator. Myers' aide Corey Stottlemyer noted the delegate had received more than 300 e-mails Tuesday morning opposing slots - and 15 in favor.

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