ANNAPOLIS – A key Senate committee postponed a final vote on bill to legalize slot machines Thursday so lawmakers can work through questions about changes to the measure, including the addition of Ocean Downs as a potential slots site.
During a long work session Wednesday, the Budget and Taxation Committee discussed redistributing the 15,500 slot machines proposed in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s bill among five racetracks and three off-track sites.
The governor’s bill calls for 11,500 slot machines at Laurel Park, Rosecroft and Pimlico racetracks and a planned track in Allegany County. Two off-track slots venues located along the Interstate 95 corridor between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, would house another 4,000 slot machines.
Committee members also proposed eliminating Howard and Baltimore counties as potential sites for off-track slots facilities. Increases in slots revenue for local governments and help for compulsive gamblers were also considered.
Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, said the delay was meant to ensure all committee members’ concerns were addressed.
“We’re trying to put out the best bill we can,” Currie said. “And that usually means that the bill will make just about everyone unhappy.”
Currie said full funding for the Thornton education reforms remained the panel’s top priority.
Adding Ocean Downs to the list of racetrack venues was a major sticking point for some lawmakers. The harness track in Berlin is owned by William Rickman, who plans the Allegany County track.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, whose district includes Ocean Downs, opposed the governor’s slots bill last year and said he would not vote for the bill this year with the addition of Ocean Downs.
“Sand and slots failed in Atlantic City. We can’t afford to tamper with the economic engine of Ocean City,” Stoltzfus said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, remained confident the bill would clear the Senate and said he was “very pleased” with the committee’s progress so far, but said there was still “a lot of work to do.”
Ehrlich’s first slots bill passed the Budget and Tax Committee 11-2, the package cleared the entire Senate narrowly, 25-21.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, who stopped the slots bill in the House last year, said he would encourage state-owned and -constructed slots facilities to ensure regulation and efficient construction, but said a slots bill will not pass the House without an additional revenue source attached.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee was briefed by the Maryland Stadium Authority Wednesday on the cost of state-constructed slots facilities at the racetracks. Executive Director Richard Slosson said construction costs alone would total at least $155 million, excluding the price of land, union labor and the slot machines themselves.