Panel urges another to look at slots issue

March 23, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

It was more about symbolism than substance, but a legislative committee voted yesterday to consider legalizing slot machines in Maryland, the first of what could be many such votes in coming years.

The House Appropriations Committee, under pressure from its chairman, Del. Howard P. Rawlings, voted to urge another House committee to take up the issue of slots before the legislature adjourns April 9.

Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, is the chief sponsor of a bill that would legalize slots at four sites in Maryland if approved by voters in a referendum next year. The measure is pending in the House Ways and Means Committee - meaning that the Appropriations Committee would normally have no input in the matter - but Rawlings has grown impatient waiting for a vote.

"We just want to get some movement on this issue," Rawlings told his committee.

The committee voted 15-8 to send the letter, which urges Ways and Means to give "affirmative consideration" to the slots bill. Four delegates abstained.

Some committee members used the occasion to debate the merits of slot machines, with one predicting that the issue would spark a contentious battle paid for by pro-gambling interests.

"Millions of dollars of campaign contributions will flow into the campaign coffers of candidates," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican who voted against sending the letter.

Del. Sheila E. Hixson, chairwoman of Ways and Means, said she wasn't sure whether she would schedule the slots bill for a vote in her committee.

"We have to look at it very carefully," said Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Slot machines were legal in four Maryland counties until the General Assembly outlawed them in the mid-1960s.

Several legislators have proposed legalizing them again, in part to generate state revenue. But the bills have not come up for a recorded vote in recent years.

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