Slots in Charles Town Video gambling approved: Md. race tracks see threat, but impact may be marginal.

November 10, 1996

ON THEIR SECOND TRY, backers of slot-machine gambling won voter approval in Charles Town, W. Va., for electronic one-armed bandits at the local race track. Out-of-state owners threatened to shut down the small track otherwise. That threat didn't work two years ago, but it did this time, thanks to a promised $16 million renovation.

Officials at Maryland's tracks immediately expressed deep concern. With slot machines at Delaware tracks already boosting racing purses dramatically, Maryland racing leaders fear a continuing squeeze on local tracks from new gambling in neighboring states.

Gov. Parris Glendening, though, is standing by his firm opposition to slots or casinos. It is the right thing to do.

Slot machines at Charles Town won't lure new racing fans. Instead, busloads of "day-trippers" will show up, and the track could draw a new slots crowd during its evening races. But Charles Town, a long drive from the Baltimore-Washington region, hardly poses a threat to Rosecroft or Pimlico or Laurel.

More ominous could be the close vote in Michigan to permit three casinos to open in Detroit. Should that venture help revitalize that impoverished city, pressure could build for a similar gambling expansion in Baltimore. Such a move would endanger Pimlico.

Given the governor's continuing opposition, the door is closed for now on slots or casinos in Maryland. The state's racing community needs to focus its energy elsewhere -- on ways to pump up enthusiasm in the sport and ways in which the state can assist the racing industry. Perhaps it is time for the state to augment racing purses or underwrite track renovations. Greater state efforts to promote and publicize races could make a big difference.

Racing in Maryland extends back to Colonial days. It is an important $1 billion industry. We urge the governor to meet with racing leaders to devise a strategy for reinvigorating Maryland's harness and thoroughbred tracks -- without turning to slots and casinos.

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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