Gambling task force appointed

June 17, 1995|By Peter Jensen and Frank Langfitt | Peter Jensen and Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writers

Expressing some reservations of his own about expanding legalized gambling, Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday unveiled the nine-member task force charged with studying the potential impact of casino gambling on Maryland.

Former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings of Maryland will chair the commission, which is scheduled to report its findings to the governor and legislature by year's end. The 60-year-old Harford County Democrat was one of five appointees selected by Mr. Glendening with the remaining four chosen by the General Assembly's presiding officers.

His appointment drew immediate criticism from lobbyists representing casino interests. When he was a state legislator and later U.S. attorney for Maryland in the late 1950s and early '60s, Mr. Tydings opposed legalized slot machines, commercial bingo and payoff pinball machines.

At a news conference in Annapolis, Mr. Tydings was joined by the task force's other gubernatorial appointees, Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr., former Baltimore City Solicitor Benjamin L. Brown, St. Mary's College President Edward T. Lewis, and William J. Reuter, chairman and chief executive officer of Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust in Hagerstown.

The legislative appointees, Sens. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, and Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, and Dels. Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, and Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George's, did not attend the announcement.

Mr. Tydings promised to hold at least four public hearings across the state and to conduct all meetings in public. The first meeting is scheduled for June 26.

Mr. Tydings, 67, acknowledged that he fought legalized gambling early in his political career, but pointed out that Maryland today is a "vastly different state" than it was three decades ago.

"I intend to undertake this responsibility with a clean slate," Mr. Tydings said.

In a 1962 article in The Sun, Mr. Tydings spoke of a connection between gambling and organized crime, noting that gambling profits were frequently used to "bribe, influence and corrupt public officials everywhere."

Sen. Larry Young, who favors casinos, said he was concerned by Mr. Tydings' public position on gambling. "I think there's going to an uphill battle with Tydings at the head," said Mr. Young, a Baltimore Democrat.

Ira C. Cooke, a lobbyist representing a consortium of casino companies, said he was hopeful that Mr. Tydings could be "able to separate his personal views" from the process.

"I think he is a prestigious, well-respected person who I hope will objectively view the opportunities that gaming offers," Mr. Cooke said.

Mr. Glendening said he has charged the committee to be objective so that he and lawmakers "know all the odds, know all the rules and make sure the deck is not stacked against us" before making any recommendations on gaming.

But the governor also used the announcement to sound some cautionary notes about gambling. He expressed skepticism over claims of pro-casino lobbyists in Annapolis and said he knows of no city that has been economically revived by legalized gambling.

"Personally, I have very serious reservations, particularly about the claim we must approve casinos because neighboring states are doing so," Mr. Glendening said. "I also question whether casinos are the great source of urban revitalization that some people claim."

Nevertheless, Mr. Tyding's appointment was the only one that drew criticism from casino interests. That may be, in part, because the legislative appointees were widely seen as sympathetic to their cause.

Ms. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat, has sponsored riverboat gambling bills for years in the legislature, saying she hopes to use some of the tax revenue for social services. Mr. Vallario, a Democrat from Prince George's County, has vacationed at hotel casinos in Puerto Rico annually for the past five years. "I think it tremendously helps the tourism business," .. he said of gaming there.

Mr. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, owned a restaurant and bar for many years and is familiar with the world of urban gambling. Of casinos, he said, "What you got to do is make sure if you're going to do it, you do it right."

Mr. Baker, a Democrat from Cecil County, is considered the wild card of the four. "I've heard casinos are the messiah," said Mr. Baker. "I've heard that casinos are a demon. I really don't know."

The task force is charged with reviewing various bills to legalize casinos in Maryland. Task force members also will study the effects of commercial gaming activities on other industries including, but not limited to, horse racing, hotels, restaurants, agriculture and tourism.

THE GAMBLING COMMISSION

Joseph D. Tydings, 67, of Monkton is an attorney with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Anderson Kill Olick and Oshinsky. Long absent from the Maryland political scene, Mr. Tydings served in the U.S. Senate from 1965 to 1971. As a state legislator and later U.S. attorney for Maryland, he crusaded against slot machines.

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