ANNAPOLIS – It may not be enough to kill the bill yet, but a group of 20 lawmakers said Wednesday they were only the tip of the iceberg of opponents in the General Assembly determined to stop Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s proposed slots legislation.
At a news conference, a group of about 20 senators and delegates – including many in the Montgomery County delegation – announced they would not support any kind of legislation to expand legalized gambling in Maryland.
Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has asked his county’s delegation to oppose any gambling legislation, and said at the news conference, “We don’t have to have slots shoved down our throats for the future of the state.”
“We’re the voice of opposition,” said Delegate Anthony Brown, D-Prince George’s. “We will not sit back and hope this issue stalemates again. We will directly oppose slots and casinos.”
Last session, Ehrlich’s first slots package died in the House.
Last week, Ehrlich submitted his lightly revised slots bill to the General Assembly, calling for off-track slot machines at two undetermined locations along the Interstate 95 corridor between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. As before, the bill also calls for slots at four racetracks in the state.
Between sessions, the House Ways and Means Committee studied the economic and social impact of expanded gambling, recommending strong state regulation of slots venues. The study also recommended locating off-track gambling sites closer to major thoroughfares and away from residential areas.
Some House Democrats have said the interim report will guide them on this year’s slots proposals.
But Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, a vocal opponent of slots last year, sounded a different tone Wednesday. The opposition this year, he said, is stronger and more broad-based.
Franchot rejected the connection between slots and balancing the budget and called slots the “crack cocaine of gambling.”
“In our view, the governor’s job is to come up with new revenues or more cuts if slots are not going to be the mechanism to balance the budget,” Franchot said. “Ultimately the budget is his responsibility, and we just decided to stop propping him up.”
Some members of the anti-slots coalition present at the press conference included Senate President Pro Tem Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery; House Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County; Delegate Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore; Delegate Mary-Dulany James, D-Harford; Sen. Roy P. Dyson, D-St. Mary’s; Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery; Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s; and Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, D-Baltimore.
The rancor revolving around the slots issue is just par for the course in this year’s legislative session.
The Assembly, for the first time in 15 years, overrode a gubernatorial veto. While partisans bickered and shouted about rules changes that diminished power and the fairness of debate.
Ehrlich Communications Director Paul Schurick said the governor was not worried by the vocal opposition.
“The majority of the people who live in Maryland support slots. The state is broke, and we can’t fix the problem without revenues from slots,” Schurick said. “(If the bill doesn’t pass) it means the state won’t have the money to pay for education.”
In the Senate, where Ehrlich’s slots bill passed narrowly last year, President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Maryland should be considered part of a region of states that already have legalized gambling.
The Calvert Democrat called slots “an absolute economic necessity in light of the divided government we have,” and said legislators needed to move forward to pass a bill.
Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, said the fate of the governor’s slots bill rests with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel. Busch said he is still opposed to slots legislation as an individual legislator, but said too much time had been taken up talking about slots and said he was “trying to focus on other important issues.”