Schmoke and casinos Inner Harbor veto: But will mayor push for slots at Pimlico Race Course?

October 31, 1995

BALTIMORE'S MAYOR tried to make things perfectly clear last week: He doesn't want a casino anywhere near the Inner Harbor. But what wasn't at all clear is whether Kurt Schmoke sought to hedge his gambling bet by supporting slot machines at Pimlico Race Course.

His remarks clarified the mayor's stance on a harbor-area casino, such as the one proposed by Primadonna Resorts. He is staunchly opposed. So opposed that the mayor said he would use his zoning powers, his veto power or the power of moral suasion to keep table games and video slots out of the downtown area. If casino interests pushed for an Inner Harbor site, "I would kill it," he said.

That's pretty strong language. It should end discussion of a downtown casino. Mr. Schmoke won't permit it. Period.

When it comes to Pimlico, though, the mayor's message got fuzzy. He is concerned about the continued viability of Old Hilltop, which has long put Baltimore on the racing map. Pimlico faces a new challenge later this month when Delaware Park opens an opulent video slot machine emporium. If expanded gambling in neighboring Delaware draws betting dollars and quality horses away from Pimlico, track owners say they will need a comparable slots facility to survive. That also means slots at Laurel Park and at Rosecroft Raceway.

But once the state accepts large-scale slot operations at the race tracks, can Maryland stop casinos from gaining admission? And once that happens, won't casino interests then march into Pennsylvania and Virginia?

That's the dilemma facing Mr. Schmoke and Pimlico's owners. ** While slot machines might appear to be the answer to the race track's new competition from Delaware Park, it could trigger far more dangerous competition by sanctioning new forms of gambling in the mid-Atlantic region.

Casinos have no place in Maryland, as we have noted in previous editorials. At the same time, state officials cannot sit idly by while a $1 billion industry -- horse racing -- is under attack. All possible approaches should be explored if Delaware Park begins to cut deeply into Pimlico's business. Protecting racing should be the primary question, as long as the solution does not let the wolf in the door.

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