Many at hearing seem to favor adding slots at Pimlico But task force members seek more information

March 06, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Many of the 100 Northwest Baltimore residents who gathered last night to discuss the impact of putting slot machines at Pimlico Race Course appeared to favor adding that form of gambling at the track.

However, several people -- including City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III -- said they wanted more information before they could support slot-machine legislation pending in the General Assembly.

"How many people would you employ out of this neighborhood" if slot machines are introduced, Bell asked Pimlico owner Joseph A. De Francis. "If you can give us some specific numbers, it might be easier for you to sell the people here on slots," Bell said.

It was the first in a series of public hearings on the slots issue sponsored by the year-old task force of 15 community leaders that is studying changes slot machines might bring and options for developing the track's 140 acres if Pimlico closes.

Relations between De Francis and the Pimlico Racetrack Neighborhoods Task Force have grown chilly in recent weeks after the group asked the General Assembly to table slot-machine legislation this session.

"The task force has no position on slot machines, and that is tantamount to opposing them," De Francis said in an interview Tuesday.

The prospects of slot-machine legislation passing the General Assembly this session appear dim. Also, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has promised to veto such legislation.

With slot machines already at Delaware tracks, De Francis fears the competition will seriously hurt his business. He wants the task force to complete a study of the issue in a couple of weeks and before the legislative session ends April 7.

However, task force officials say they plan to seek funding for a detailed, independent study of the impact of slot machines on the track and surrounding community and reach a decision by the 1998 legislative session.

"We're not against slots, but we don't feel like we're ready to go for slots," said Karen Evans, executive director of the Northwest Baltimore Corp., an umbrella organization of community groups that is coordinating the task force.

Putting slot machines at Pimlico will produce 1,200 jobs and provide $80 million in new tax revenue for the state, De Francis said last night after the audience viewed a 10-minute video on the economic benefits of the track.

De Francis said jobs created by the addition of slot machines would go to those most qualified, but that he would like to employ people in the neighborhood.

He received the loudest applause of the main speakers.

There was only scattered applause for Eugene Conti, state secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, who was representing the governor. Conti restated the governor's plan to form a task force to study ways to help Maryland's horse racing industry.

The audience appeared to grow frustrated at conflicting reports of how slot machines would affect the community.

De Francis cited studies showing crime increased in communities that brought in new forms of gambling because the number of visitors increased.

"In Atlantic City, you went from a 25,000-resident resort to 25 million visitors annually -- more population, more crime," De Francis said.

Then a spokesman for the Maryland attorney general's office said all types of crime increase as a direct result of increases in gambling. "Bringing casinos to Maryland will bring a lot more crime," said Carolyn Quattrocki, special assistant attorney general.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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