Schmoke says slots deal is done Mayor says governor promises Baltimore at least $25 million

Key lawmakers informed

Schools would benefit

deal not quite firm, Glendening aide says

July 31, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and Thomas W. Waldron | William F. Zorzi Jr. and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jean Thompson contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has agreed to support legalizing slot machines in Maryland and has pledged to give Baltimore at least $25 million of the gambling profits a year for education, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday.

Schmoke said Glendening made the commitment to him at a private meeting Friday as the two men negotiated an agreement on the city schools. The mayor said the governor asked him to keep the slots deal secret until Glendening could produce evidence that Maryland horse racing was being hurt by slots at Delaware tracks.

But Schmoke said he had to disclose the deal to key legislators "in order to get their support" for the schools agreement. He confirmed their accounts of the deal in a telephone interview with The Sun.

A top aide to the governor said last night that Glendening had in fact reached a deal with Schmoke to support slot machines, but said it was not quite as firm as the mayor had described.

Major F. Riddick Jr., Glendening's chief of staff, termed the deal "conditional" pending evidence that Maryland's racetracks and the Preakness Stakes were being hurt by Delaware, where slots were introduced last December.

"If there's no evidence of that, you can't get" legislation, Riddick said.

He said he was speaking on the governor's behalf after discussing the matter by phone with Glendening, who is on vacation in California.

Mayor Schmoke said that under the deal, Baltimore City schools would stand to gain $100 million over the next five years from slot machine revenues. That money would be in addition to the $182 million that Glendening publicly committed to Baltimore schools after Friday's meeting, the mayor said.

Riddick said that $25 million a year was "the mayor's figure," though he did not dispute it. The additional money to Baltimore, he said, would depend on "whatever the city's portion" of statewide slot machine revenues is.

He said that if Maryland tracks were in fact threatened, the administration would likely introduce its own slots legislation. "You have the governor willing to work with the legislature on such an issue," he said.

Eugene A. Conti Jr., the Maryland secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, said yesterday that his department has been monitoring the revenues generated by the Delaware slot machines for the administration.

Two House committees are also expected to study the impact of the Delaware slots on Maryland racing, and the legislature's fiscal analysts are doing their own report on the issue. Those studies are expected to be concluded sometime before the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Even with the governor's backing, a slots bill would face heavy opposition from lawmakers and others opposed to expansion of the state's already large array of legalized gambling.

Without the governor's support, any proposal to legalize slot machines would be nearly impossible to move through the General Assembly. Many legislators would likely be reluctant to vote for such a potentially controversial bill, worrying that, even if it passed, it could be vetoed by the governor.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a proponent of expanded gambling as a means of generating jobs and revenue in his home town of Cumberland, said the governor would be the key tTC player when the issue comes before the Assembly.

"It is this simple: The gambling issue is squarely in the hands of the governor," Taylor said. "With his public support, it will pass; without his public support, gambling will not pass the House."

One leading opponent of slot machines said he was "extremely disappointed" to learn of the governor's apparent commitment.

"Two of the top officials of the state decided to make kind of a secret deal that could have devastating impact on the citizens of Maryland," said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Howard County Republican. "Without any basis other than the fact that there appears to be a thirst for cash."

"If I were governor, I wouldn't want my legacy to be the introduction of slot machines," McCabe added.

Schmoke said he "firmly" believes "slots will happen -- as long as the legislature passes it -- and that there will be a yield to the city."

After initially opposing casino-style gambling during last year's mayoral election, Schmoke now supports slots at Maryland tracks and possibly at off-track betting sites.

In a series of meetings around the city in the days preceding last week's meeting with the governor, Schmoke floated his idea of using gambling revenue for education with groups of clergy, business leaders, legislators and others.

Finally, on Friday, he pushed the governor to embrace the idea.

Schmoke's wishes are usually important to the governor as the mayor was a key supporter of Glendening during the 1994 campaign, and his political machine is expected to play an important role in the governor's re-election effort in 1998.

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