Glendening again vows gambling veto Governor repeats pledge to reject bills backing casinos, slots

Stance applauded at rally

But Senate president says he'll still sponsor such a measure

February 05, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

Attempting to bury the issue of casino-style gambling once and for all, Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday assembled an impressive group of religious leaders, law enforcement representatives and elected officials vowing to oppose any expansion of gambling in Maryland.

With more than 150 backers applauding loudly, Glendening repeated his vow to veto any gambling legislation that makes it to his desk.

"This issue has clearly become a distraction," Glendening said, referring to continuing efforts by lawmakers to generate momentum for gambling bills. "As recently as last week, I spoke with legislative leaders and tried to close this door so we could get on with the business at hand."

Meanwhile, Glendening said he supports waiting a year to find new sources of revenue for the racing industry, disappointing industry leaders who had hoped to find legislative support during the General Assembly's 90-day session.

The governor said the issue needs a "comprehensive" study before a decision can be made on how to help racing. "We should do it right, not in a knee-jerk fashion," he said in an interview.

While the racing issue may be put on hold, Glendening left no doubt that he intends to use his office as a bully pulpit to fight any attempt to bring casinos to Maryland or slot machines to the state's horse tracks this year or next.

Presiding over a 90-minute event at the State House that had the feel of a pep rally and occasionally the fervor of Sunday morning worship, Glendening and a dozen speakers described the evils of gambling.

"Governor, we strongly support you," said Bishop Felton E. May, head of the Baltimore-Washington conference of the United Methodist Church. "This proposal is shameful, having a government prey on its own citizens for money."

Others, including Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias and Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., also voiced criticism of casino-style gambling.

Despite the governor's high-profile opposition, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday he still intends to introduce legislation this session to bring slots to Maryland tracks.

Too many Marylanders are now taking their gambling to other states, such as Delaware, he said.

"Those are Maryland dollars that are right now fleeing our state," said Miller, a Prince George's Democrat.

Miller has been lobbying senators to support his anticipated slots bill, but it remains unclear whether he can find support from the 29 senators he would need to override Glendening's promised veto of such legislation.

"It's still alive. Any time you have the Senate president pushing something, it's still alive," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a slots proponent and chairman of the committee that considers racing legislation.

But Bromwell conceded that the governor's carefully orchestrated show of support gives him a plus in the public relations battle on the issue.

"I think in the public's perception, it makes it harder" to pass slots legislation, said Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat who heads the committee that would consider a bill. "Absolutely it makes it harder."

Bromwell and another key legislator, Baltimore Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the budget committee, have introduced a bill that would pump $20 million of state revenue into purses at the state's tracks. The money is needed, he said, to keep purses here competitive with those in Delaware, which have grown dramatically thanks to slots revenue.

Another bill introduced last week, sponsored by Del. Clarence Davis, a Baltimore Democrat, and Del. Rose Mary Hatem Bonsack, a Harford County Democrat, would legalize slot machines at three state tracks -- Pimlico and Laurel thoroughbred courses, and Rosecroft harness track.

In addition, the bill would allow slots at two off-track betting outlets.

"We must do something to capture some of the revenues that are leaving Maryland," Davis said.

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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