Governor's stand on slots looks political to Taylor

November 10, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

On a clear day, Cas Taylor can hear forever. Last Wednesday, the day after election day, he could hear all the way to Charles Town Racetrack in West Virginia. It's about 85 miles from Taylor's home in Cumberland. What he heard was the sound of money that ought to be Maryland's.

Slot machines are on their way there. They're already in Delaware, which took in $870 million of play in their first six months of existence. They're in Atlantic City, which estimates it pockets $800 million a year -- just from Maryland bettors.

And now, just over the border from Western Maryland, the slots will be arriving at Charles Town, having been voted into existence by West Virginians who will now commence collecting millions from Maryland grown-ups wishing to take an occasional fling with their very own money.

Could such a thing happen here? Taylor, Maryland's Speaker of the House, looks at his bleak Western Maryland economy and prays for it. In the city of Baltimore, Mayor Kurt Schmoke does the same. He thought he had a deal with Gov. Parris Glendening to bring gambling here and put millions toward the decayed schools, until Glendening had a change of heart and, as delicately as he could, called Schmoke a liar.

No gambling, the governor said. Never had a deal, the governor said. And, last week, as the state of West Virginia said, "Gambling? Great!", the governor issued a terse statement reiterating his position: No gambling in Maryland.

"Yeah, he gives all this stuff about family values not mixing with gambling," Taylor said. "Well, let me tell you about family values. We've got all these people out here who graduate school and there are no jobs for them in Western Maryland. So they have to leave home to get work, and get married, and afford children. So there's his family values."

L "Have you said this to the governor recently?" he was asked.

"Nah," Taylor said, "I quit. It's not worth it anymore. It's going to take somebody bigger than me to flip him again. How can he say, 'I don't care what happens, I'm not going to sign any bill OK'ing gambling?' How can you know what reality brings? You know how? Because of me. Posturing me as a big pro-gambler helps him, he thinks."

For Glendening, it actually does a couple of things. It makes him simpatico with polls showing public antipathy toward legalizing vTC gambling, and it prepares him for an expected political challenge from Taylor in two years.

"If you ever put a firm gambling proposal before the public," Taylor said, "and explain to them what you want to do, and the money it would bring in, and the jobs, and explain how it's licensed and regulated, I have no doubt they'd favor it. Slot machines are computerized, just like the state lottery. It's as clean as the lottery. Have you ever heard of one dime being skimmed from the lottery? But he makes it sound like it'd be a Mafia organization."

Some weeks ago, Taylor took members of the House Ways and Means Committee to Delaware Park to look at the money arriving there daily to play slot machines. He imagined such a scene in Western Maryland, with tourists arriving, and hotels going up, and jobs never previously created.

"In Delaware," he said, "they're laughing all the way to the bank. We talked to the owner of the track. He said, 'Oh, you'll get gambling in Maryland. It's just a matter of time. I just hope it takes you a long time to wake up.' The longer it does, the longer Delaware keeps taking money that ought to be coming here."

A study by Frostburg State University's economics department -- independent and objective, Taylor stresses -- said that one hotel with slot machines would not only bring millions to Western Maryland, but that 85 percent of the money would come from out of state. In West Virginia, Charles Town officials estimate similar percentages arrive at their track from Maryland and Virginia -- and that's without slot machines.

"And now," Taylor said, "West Virginia's going to get all that additional out-of-state money. And guess which state?"

As for Parris Glendening, he has one more reason to oppose gambling. Much of the talk involves putting slot machines at racetracks.

This is touchy business for a governor who got caught taking illegal money from racetrack interests, and watched others pay the criminal price, and floated such a lame excuse about not knowing the money was laundered that a total of maybe eight people in the entire state believe him, that he's now trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and anything that even hints of gambling interests.

He's ready to let the state pay the price for his public humiliation.

"Believe me," Taylor said, "I know this as true as I know my name. He had it all planned to agree to gambling, so he could hold onto his political base in Baltimore. And then he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and he found himself in a corner. And that's why he's not budging on gambling."

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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