By Stephanie Tracy and Adrienne Saunders
ANNAPOLIS – Legislators set the stage for a new round in the fight over expanded gambling Tuesday as Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and the House of Delegates presented separate proposals for slot machine approval.
Ehrlich sent his revised slots bill to the General Assembly late Monday night, to the surprise and irritation of some lawmakers.
Tuesday afternoon, the House Ways and Means Committee answered the governor’s salvo with the release of its months-long study of gambling in Maryland and its effect on the state’s economic and social well being.
Although he had not seen the details of the governor’s bill, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said the proposal sounded a familiar tune.
“From my understanding it’s a very similar proposal to last year’s except with a few expansions,” he said. “We’ll put the House study and the governor’s proposal side-by-side and take a realistic approach from there.”
The governor is proposing off-track slot machine venues in Prince George’s, Howard, Harford, Cecil, Baltimore and/or Baltimore City. A commission would decide where to locate gambling sites within each eligible jurisdiction. The plan limits the number of off-track video lottery terminals to 4,000.
Ehrlich said in a press release that his proposal recognized a “growing consensus” among lawmakers to allow slots at non-racetrack locations.
“I look forward to working with elected officials across Maryland toward a consensus that helps fund our K-12 classrooms and stops the flow of Maryland dollars across state lines,” he said.
Like the slots legislation that passed the Senate last session, the administration’s proposal would also authorize licenses for slot machines at Pimlico, Laurel Park and Rosecroft Raceway, as well as an anticipated track in Allegany County. Gambling machines at all the included racetracks could total more than 11,000 terminals.
Racetrack slots revenue would be distributed as defined in the slots bill from the 2003 General Assembly session. Education funding would receive 46 percent of the slots proceeds, and each racetrack would receive 39 percent. The rest would be divided among affected local and state governments. The new proposal sends $250,000 to health benefits for Maryland jockeys.
House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, called the proposal vague.
“It’s a vehicle for negotiation,” Barve said. “We’re always willing to work with the governor, and we really need to see what the Senate does with it. The House will be heavily guided by the findings of the Ways and Means Committee report — that will be our gold standard.”
The House report called for public financing for the construction of gambling facilities and recommended that such facilities be located closer to major thoroughfares, not residential areas, including the Interstate 95 corridor between Baltimore and Delaware, the Frederick region between West Virginia and Maryland’s metro areas, and the Eastern Shore.
The delegates’ proposal also called for a reduction in the amount of revenue given to the tracks, 24.8 percent of the gross revenue, instead of the governor’s 39 percent.
Of the administration’s proposal, Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, said he would only consider it based on two conditions — education and the share of ownership given to minority business owners.
“I’ve been pressured very strongly by the faith community — which is largely against slots — so if I’m going to support this proposal,” McFadden said, “it’s going to be for our children and for the sake of economic parity.”
– 30 – CNS-1-27-04