ANNAPOLIS – Maryland lawmakers weighing options for expanded gambling have a new proposal to consider: slot machines or even a brand-new version of Pimlico racetrack – at Camden Yards.
The proposal could move the storied Preakness Triple Crown race from its northwestern Baltimore home to downtown. And it could change the dynamics of a slots bill – which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich last spring fashioned partially to help Maryland’s struggling racing industry – just weeks before the beginning of the next legislative session on Jan. 14.
“I like the idea, I think there is a certain flair to it . . . This should be Maryland’s and Baltimore’s,” said Carl A.J. Wright, chairman of the Stadium Authority in introducing the plan to the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday.
Wright said later he had not discussed the proposal with Ehrlich or the owners of Pimlico and that no outline exists on how it might be enacted.
Wright’s proposal came at the tail end of the Stadium Authority’s presentation to the committee on its capacity to build slot machine facilities, should legislation expanding gambling pass in the upcoming session.
The committee, which killed the slots bill Ehrlich and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, shepherded through the Senate last year, is expected to be a major player in shaping any new legislation in the upcoming session.
Members spent the fall studying the issue and touring possible sites for slot machines statewide. They will decide on some of the bigger questions, such as whether the panel will support a slots bill at all, during their retreat Dec. 8 and 9.
After the meeting Wright said he mentioned the proposal to Ehrlich Communications Director Paul Schurick, who told him he was free to reveal the idea.
The plan is just one of many being considered and “if we had our druthers we would still put slot machines at four racetracks,” said Greg Massoni, deputy communications director, referring to the provisions of the bill that died in the committee last session.
“I think the conversation is headed in the right direction. We’re all talking about passing slots,” Massoni said.
Tim Capps, vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico, said he hadn’t heard of the idea until he started getting calls after the meeting.
“I have no idea where this came from,” he said. “It’s an awfully complex idea to sort of trial balloon.”
To make such an idea reality, he said, would take a lot of talking among the owners, the city and the community.
Some committee members, too, said the idea is so new they don’t have the wherewithal to evaluate it, and there’s little time before the General Assembly convenes to explore it, although they called the proposal “interesting.”
“That will be up to Baltimore to make a decision if the city could work something out for Pimlico,” said Chairwoman Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery.
“That was not a proposal that we’ve considered. That was just one person in a good position to put in another idea,” said Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s. “It’s kind of late for something of that magnitude.”
Others were surprised by Wright’s assertion that nothing of the plan is yet “defined in paper.”
“It’s hard to believe that the chairman of the authority would just come over here and announce that. I would think that he would have tested it in a few other places,” said Delegate Jean Cryor, R-Montgomery, “It’s almost the month of December and things are still in flux. The biggest items are still on the table.”
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