ANNAPOLIS – Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich said he will meet with legislators next week to discuss the future of slot machines in Maryland, a key component of his budget plan, however, he’s set no timeline for developing a program.
State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, and other Maryland Democrats criticized Ehrlich’s budget plan in late September, which calls for putting slot machines at Maryland’s racetracks to produce an estimated $1 billion a year for public schools and correct a looming $1.7 billion Maryland budget deficit.
The Democrats said then the plan could not be in place that quickly and would not generate his predicted revenue within his first term as governor.
The plan for bringing slot machines to Maryland’s horse racing tracks such as Laurel Park and Pimlico in Baltimore, is becoming more of a reality with Ehrlich’s election.
Although cautious, Miller is willing to work with Ehrlich on the plan, he said.
“I’m for slot machines at race tracks,” said Miller. “But it needs to be done the Maryland way, which is the correct way.”
Slot machines should not be placed anywhere other than in racetracks, Miller said.
Ehrlich agrees, said his spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver.
The General Assembly is willing to discuss the issue and the budget with Ehrlich, Miller said.
“Democrats in the General Assembly will extend an olive branch to him and try to cooperate with him,” Miller said.
Miller favored the budget plan of Ehrlich’s defeated opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who did not rely on slot machines. In fact, Townsend was sharply critical of the idea.
Ehrlich’s budget plan does not primarily rely on slot machines at the racetracks, DeLeaver said, but rather on running government departments more efficiently and spending more conservatively.
Installing slots in Maryland tracks has already met a bit of a snag. House Speaker Casper Taylor, D-Allegany, a strong supporter of the gambling devices, faces likely defeat by LeRoy Ellsworth Myers Jr., R-Allegany. After a count of absentee ballots, Taylor trails Myers by 181 votes.
Racing officials have welcomed Ehrlich’s plan.
“We’ve always said we liked (slot machines),” said Mike Gathagan, spokesman for the Maryland Jockey Club. “They would allow us to compete with Mid-Atlantic states’ racing tracks.”
Ehrlich’s slot machine stance is considerably different from the man he will replace in January. Gov. Parris N. Glendening strongly opposed any expansion of gambling in Maryland.
“I am personally outraged by the gambling lobby’s attempts to tie gambling to education funding,” Glendening said in a 1997 statement. “Therefore, I will not introduce any legislation to allow the expansion of casino gambling or slot machines in Maryland. I will not support any casino or slot legislation introduced by others. No bill that authorizes slot machines or casinos will pass my desk.”
Ehrlich’s slot machine plan may also face opposition from his own party.
“I’m not personally supporting slots but I’m very pleased that Governor- elect Ehrlich will have them in only four locations,” said Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset. “I think he’s put in enough safeguards into the idea.”
Stoltzfus would be “reluctant” to vote for slot machines at the racetracks, he said. The state can take one of two routes in passing slot machine legislation. Either the General Assembly can pass a bill itself, or it can send the issue to voters in a referendum. Although he prefers a referendum, Miller said the matter might require the attention of the General Assembly. “With the state’s budget crisis,” Miller said, “I’m not sure Congressman Ehrlich is ready to lead other budget alternatives.” – 30 – CNS-11-7-02