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A penny for your slots

In local races, party affiliation doesn't predict candidates' views on the machines

In local races, party affiliation doesn't predict candidates' views on the machines

October 29, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - This election season, one issue in particular - gambling - does not divide neatly along party lines.

In a tightly fought race for Maryland House of Delegates Subdistrict 2C in Washington County, Republican Paul Muldowney and Democrat John P. Donoghue agree on legalizing slot machines.

Meanwhile, in Subdistrict 1C, which also includes Washington County, incumbent Republican LeRoy E. Myers Jr. is diametrically opposed to the governor - a fellow Republican. Myers opposes slots.

His Democratic opponent, Brian K. Grim, favors them, as does Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

As part of election coverage in these two contested state races, The Herald-Mail asked the four candidates their views on gambling, particularly slots.

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Throughout his first term, Ehrlich has pushed for slot machines, which he said would revive the state's horse racing industry and would fund education. Each year, political wrangling has kept slots bills from passing.

Slots proposals have taken many forms, varying by location, number of sites and number of slot machines. Most have focused on the state's horse racing tracks as host sites.

This year, Ehrlich proposed putting slots at six places across the state.

Subdistrict 1C

Among the four candidates interviewed for this story, only Myers opposes slots. In fact, he said, backlash against slots is what helped drive him into office four years ago.

Subdistrict 1C, which Myers represents, includes the Allegany County community of Little Orleans, where residents protested a proposed horse racing track. The track was being considered as a spot for slot machines.

"In my district, the higher percentage is opposed to slots," Myers said. "I find very few people that go to play slots."

He described his subdistrict as mostly "very rural, God-fearing people."

Myers said he opposes slots because people with little money to spare are attracted to them and because of the potential damage he believes slots do to communities that have them, such as "bankruptcies, broken homes, suicides."

"I don't think it's the state's business to be in slot machines," he said.

Positive, negative

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which was created by Congress, wrote in the executive summary of its 1999 report: "Communities that embrace gambling, and the areas that surround them, experience both gambling's negative and positive impacts. The key question is this: How do gambling's benefits measure against its costs? Even after the NGISC's 2 years of extensive research, the question cannot be definitively answered."

Grim said he doesn't object philosophically to slots.

"I don't think the state should be legislating morality," he said.

Grim favors having slot machines, but only if the counties that have them get about 30 percent of the proceeds.

Grim said people in his subdistrict go to West Virginia to play slot machines and will go to Pennsylvania, where slots recently became legal, so there's no reason not to keep those people in Maryland.

Myers and Grim agreed that Cumberland residents would be more likely to support slots than people in other parts of the subdistrict.

Asked where slot machines should be placed, Grim said he would need to hear more from the public before deciding.

Subdistrict 2C

In the race in District 2C, which roughly follows the city of Hagerstown, Donoghue and Muldowney both favor slots.

Because people leave Maryland to play slots in neighboring states, "we lose $650 million a year ..." Muldowney said. "We have to capture that revenue."

"I support slots if the revenues are going to benefit the citizens of Maryland," Donoghue said.

Each said slots revenue should be used for education. Muldowney mentioned teachers' salaries and pensions and school construction as part of the mix.

Donoghue added prescription drugs for senior citizens. He said the money should be distributed statewide by a commission similar to the one that divides tip jar proceeds in Washington County.

Muldowney and Donoghue said they approve of putting slot machines at racetracks.

"I don't think they want them in Washington County," Donoghue said.

Neither Donoghue nor Muldowney thought that slots would cut into tip jars, a common form of gambling in Washington County.

Donoghue said tip jars - a form of paper gambling that involves peel-off tickets with numbers on them - remain popular despite the proximity of slot machines at Charles Town Races & Slots in Jefferson County, W.Va.

People play tip jars as part of a social evening, while slots are seen as a form of entertainment itself, he said.

'Cocaine of gambling'

None of the four candidates objected to other aspects of state-sanctioned gambling.

"We have scratch-offs, Lotto," Donoghue said. "It's already happening."

Myers wouldn't speculate on whether he would vote in favor of tip jars or bingo if he were asked to do so, but he described them more favorably than slots.

For one thing, all revenue from bingo and tip jars stays in the community and helps nonprofit organizations.

Also, tip jars, bingo games and lottery tickets don't have slot machines' whirring noises and clanking coins, which, he said, help feed a player's addiction.

"It's like the cocaine of gambling," Myers said.

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