Keno not welcome in O.C. Mayor is calling for court injunction to block the game

December 17, 1992|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer Staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

OCEAN CITY -- Mindful that they are moving into risky political territory, town officials said yesterday they may be forced to turn to the courts to stop the State Lottery Agency from introducing its keno numbers game in restaurants and bars here and elsewhere in Maryland.

Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell said he will ask Ocean City solicitor Guy R. Ayres III to explore legal means, including a court injunction, to block the controversial lottery game.

"It puts us in a bad spot with you-know-who," Mr. Powell said in reference to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who proposed the new game, "but we can't help that."

Ocean City officials have argued that with the introduction of keno, the image of Maryland's most popular seaside retreat could change from a family resort to a gambling mecca.

Despite their concerns, as well as growing opposition among state legislators, a spokeswoman for Mr. Schaefer said last night that the governor still believes the game is necessary to help balance Maryland's ailing budget.

"The fiscal reality is that we still need the money the game will generate," said Page Boinest, the governor's press secretary. If Ocean City were successful in stopping or delaying the game, she added, "it would jeopardize [the state's] AAA bond rating and our ability to balance the budget."

So far, 16 Ocean City businesses are among the hundreds of places scheduled to begin offering keno when the game makes its statewide debut on Jan. 4.

Supporting the call to stop keno in the courts, if necessary, Ocean City Councilman Jim Mathias said he feared other forms of gambling would follow if the game is allowed to begin.

"The only thing missing is the slot machine and the roulette wheel," he said. "How long will it take before that comes?"

Often political allies, Governor Schaefer and Mayor Powell parted recently over the keno controversy. When the resort mayor said he opposed the new game, even as a way to help close the state's $450 million shortfall, the governor lashed back. He said jurisdictions eagerly accepted state funds for projects such as Ocean City's beach replenishment program but failed to offer alternative solutions to the fiscal problems.

Yesterday Mr. Powell said the alternatives were "obvious."

"We have to stop spending so much money and we have to raise more, probably through taxes," the mayor said.

Mr. Ayres said he was unsure what, if any, legal argument Ocean City could make to block keno in court.

He said lawyers for the State Lottery Agency maintain that keno is an extension of the paper lottery games and is not a separate form of gambling. Otherwise, he said, jurisdictions around the state would have the authority to ban the game.

"I guess you could challenge that," he said, "that keno does not fall within that realm."

Aside from the sale of state lottery tickets, Ocean City has been successful in keeping most forms of gambling out of the resort. It and the rest of Worcester County are the only areas on the Eastern Shore that do not permit the use of slot machines in fraternal organizations.

And last year, the City Council amended its zoning laws to prohibit the operation of off-track betting parlors within the town limits.

The City Council unanimously passed a strongly worded resolution on Monday asking local business owners not to install the keno terminals and area residents not to play the game.

Resort officials also are making it known quietly that business owners offering keno may come under heavier-than-normal scrutiny if they come before city panels seeking liquor licenses or building permits.

"There's due process and then there's due process," one city official observed yesterday.

Nevertheless, some resort business owners say keno promises a brighter economic picture in Ocean City, particularly during the winter slow period.

"Instead of bus loads of people going up to Atlantic City every day, maybe they'll stay here and spend their money," said Gary Walker, owner of the Purple Moose and Cadillac Jack's, two popular bars.

In Mr. Walker's opinion, keno should not be controversial. "I don't see any difference between keno and bingo in the American Legion Hall on Thursday night," he said. "For adults, it gives them one more form of entertainment."

Sam Cook, general manager of the Carousel Hotel and Resort, said keno will be offered in the hotel's Seasons Lounge as an extension of the paper lottery games already available in the gift shop.

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