Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said yesterday he opposes opening casinos at the state's two harness racing tracks.
The comments by Mr. Miller, one of the state's most powerful legislators, are the first sign of political opposition to a proposal by Bally Entertainment Corp. to build casinos at Delmarva and Rosecroft Raceways.
Mr. Miller said he opposes a casino at Delmarva Downs, in Berlin in Worcester County, because politicians in nearby Ocean City have long been against such an operation.
And he said he is against a casino at Rosecroft, in Fort Washington in Prince George's County, because the site is accessible only through a residential area and expanded gambling would damage the track's "ambience."
"Rosecroft has been a major social center for Southern Maryland," said Mr. Miller, a Prince George's Democrat who lives several miles from the track. "It's a nice atmosphere. I wouldn't want to see that tarnished by unsavory interests."
Instead, Mr. Miller said that Baltimore's Inner Harbor and the Port America property along the Potomac River in Prince George's would be more appropriate sites.
Mr. Miller emphasized that he was not endorsing casinos, merely addressing where they might be best suited if approved by the legislature and the governor next year.
Two Annapolis lobbyists close to Mr. Miller, John Stierhoff and Gerard E. Evans, represent a casino company that has bid $4.75 million for more than 100 acres at the Port America site. The property is a short drive from Rosecroft and would be a potential competitor for a casino license.
Mr. Miller said his opposition tocasinos at Rosecroft was in no way connected to his relationship with Mr. Evans, who chairs the Prince George's Democratic Party. Moreover, Mr. Miller said he did not know that Mr. Evans was representing the casino company, Harveys Resorts of Lake Tahoe, Nev.
"I haven't talked to Gerry in two weeks," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Evans' connection to Harveys has been reported repeatedly in both The Sun and the Washington Post.
Mr. Stierhoff, who until late last year served as the Senate president's assistant, said: "I have never spoken to Mike about the Port America site."
Last month, the Bally company struck a deal with an association representing the state's harness horsemen to help purchase Maryland's financially troubled trotting tracks. The deal calls for Bally to attempt to put casinos at the tracks, and the association would share in the profits.
Bally had little reaction to Mr. Miller's comments yesterday.
"Our focus right now is getting these tracks up and running and reasonably healthy," said Bernie Murphy, a company spokesman.
Ramsey Poston, editor of Casinews, a casino industry newsletter, said he was not sure whether Mr. Miller could directly affect a Bally bid for a casino license as those decisions are generally made by appointed commissions. He added, however, "Bally and [the harnessmen's association] are going to have to reach an understanding with the Senate president."