Casino plan encounters skepticism Veto is likely, say candidates for governorship

September 30, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

If a proposal to build a gambling casino and hotel complex on Indian-owned land in Southern Maryland reaches the desk of Maryland's next governor, most of the men and women now running for that job say they would likely veto it.

Piscataway Indians indigenous to Southern Maryland hope to obtain federal recognition as a tribe, which could be the first step toward buying land on which a casino complex could be built under provisions of a 1988 federal Indian gaming law.

Yesterday, most of the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor said they would have grave doubts about expanding gambling in Maryland but would want to hear the pros and cons.

Only Democrat Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive, said without equivocation that he would veto any plan to build a gambling casino in Maryland.

"We do not need gambling casinos in Maryland, regardless of who is sponsoring them," he said.

The Piscataway Conoy Confederation and Subtribes Inc., which claims to represent as many as 5,000 to 7,000 Marylanders of Indian ancestry, has entered into an agreement with a firm headed by Rockville lawyer Lewis A. Rivlin to seek recognition by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

If recognition is granted, the tribe would still need approval from the governor and the U.S. Department of Interior to develop a casino. Sites in Prince George's and Charles counties, including a pair of unidentified 100-acre parcels near the Capital Beltway, are under consideration by Mr. Rivlin's firm.

Merwin A. Savoy, tribal chairman of the confederation, said the casino project is a possibility but is secondary to other goals that could be achieved through recognition of the tribe: among them, college scholarships, a cultural center, a clinic and a tribal headquarters.

The casino proposal, patterned after lucrative projects on Indian reservations in other states, could create thousands of jobs and pump millions of dollars into the state's economy and treasury, Mr. Rivlin said. That might be hard for the next governor to resist, he said.

Not so, say those who want the job.

"I am opposed to casino gambling in Maryland," said Mary H. Boergers, a Democratic state senator from Montgomery County. "I haven't seen the proposal, and I think it is unfair to automatically . . . oppose it. But they would have to make an awfully good case."

Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Baltimore County Republican, said, "Obviously, I would want to listen to the proposal. But my reaction is not positive at all." The House minority leader fears a casino would attract organized crime and do little in the way of true economic development.

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he does not want to see the state budget more dependent on gambling revenue than it already is, calling such revenues "too volatile."

Two potential candidates, Republican Robert R. Neall, the Anne Arundel County Executive, and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Democrat from Kent County, could not be reached for comment.

The Piscataway proposal is in its infant stages. The tribe has yet to file a petition for recognition.

Carl Shaw, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, said it can take two to 10 years for a decision. In the 15 years of the program, 145 tribes have filed petitions or inquired about the process, but only eight have been recognized.

To gain recognition, a tribe must document its membership and "descendancy to aboriginal people of this country," Mr. Shaw said.

Tribes also must provide records showing they have lived and met together as an Indian community through the years and provide a written constitution or bylaws, among other requirements.

G. Rodney Little, director of Maryland's Division of Historical and Cultural Programs, said he believes the confederation "will have a very difficult time" obtaining recognition.

But a briefing document prepared by Mr. Rivlin's firm -- Tribal Funding, Development and Management Corp. -- states that extensive research has convinced the firm that "the Piscataway comfortably meet all criteria for . . . recognition."

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