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Poll indicates majority of Marylanders favor slots referendum

October 22, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) -- A majority of Maryland voters support a referendum that would legalize slot machines in the state, according to a Washington Post poll.

The poll conducted for an article in Wednesday's paper found that 62 percent of likely voters expressed support for the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, while 36 percent said they would vote against it. Two percent said they are undecided.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has billed the constitutional amendment legalizing slots as part of the solution to the state's fiscal problems. But opponents say legalization will lead to increased crime, gambling addiction and other problems.

The poll was conducted by telephone from Thursday through Monday, among a random sample of 1,005 adults living in Maryland. The margin of error for the 885 registered voters is plus or minus three percentage points. Error margins are larger for subgroups.

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Legislative analysts predict the measure authorizing up to 15,000 machines at five locations would eventually generate more than $600 million a year for education and other proceeds would go to operators of slots parlors and the horse racing industry.

Bridget Frey, a spokeswoman for Marylanders United to Stop Slots, attributed the poll's findings to heavy spending by pro-slots group For Maryland For Our Future.

"We're going to spend the next two weeks pressing our efforts," Frey said. "We're confident in our grass-roots efforts."

Steve Kearney, a spokesman for the pro-slots group, said the poll showed that "clearly people want to keep the millions of dollars already being spent out of state on slots for Maryland's needs," referring to Marylanders who play slots in Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The poll found that the slots proposal received at least majority support from voters in all regions of the state, in both major political parties and among all income and education levels. A majority of both men and women and black and white voters said they would support the plan.

Nearly all Maryland voters are worried about the economy, and about two-thirds are concerned about their family finances, the poll found.

Sixty-three percent of voters called the economy and jobs the most pressing issue in Maryland, a sevenfold increase from the Post's last Maryland poll a year ago. The same percentage said things have gotten seriously off on the wrong track in the state, a 15 percentage point increase compared from a year ago. Two years ago, just before O'Malley's election, nearly six in 10 said things were on the right track.

Fifty-three percent of voters said they approve of O'Malley's performance, while 37 percent disapprove. Those numbers are about the same as the Post's Maryland poll a year ago, though other polls in the meantime have shown a drop in voters' approval of O'Malley's work since last year's special session, when lawmakers passed budget cuts and tax hikes.

During that special session, the General Assembly also approved O'Malley's plan to let voters decide whether to legalize slots through the referendum on a constitutional amendment.

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