Slots number becoming game of high-low

This Just In...

January 27, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

FIRST WE heard that the racing industry wanted 18,000 slot machines in Maryland. Then the number fell to 13,500, and by the end of last week Bobby Governor reportedly was pulling back even more to find some palatable number. Pete "Cut Me In" Rawlings, the city delegate and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was talking 10,000. By the time you read this, they might be agreeing to ask for 11 slots and a mahjong table at the Royal Farm store in Hampden.

Hey, it's a work in progress.

Tracking family image

While the new governor might not be firm on the number of slots that should be legalized in Maryland, he seems firm about where they should be allowed -- at three existing racetracks (Laurel Park, Pimlico and Rosecroft) and one future track (Rickman-o-Rama in Western Maryland). The governor's stand includes adamant opposition to slots at Ocean Downs outside Ocean City. He seems to share the view that slots would tarnish the "family" image of Ocean City.

Interesting that the governor and other slots backers don't seem overly concerned about how thousands of one-armed bandits might tarnish the "family" image around Pimlico, between Park Heights and Mount Washington, or Laurel Park, in lovely Laurel, or Rosecroft, in Prince George's County.

Plans of the people

The people I'm hearing from -- readers of this column -- tell me they're not so convinced the state needs slots, and they're bothered that the fate of the thoroughbred horse racing industry has been tied to their legalization. They seem to share my skeptical view of that.

Wrote TJI reader Cecilia Meisner: "Are you sure that we shouldn't support slots to save the horse racing industry? It would be a good test-run of my plan to sell crack cocaine at duckpin bowling alleys to revitalize Maryland's vital duckpin industry."

And many readers think it's a cool idea to have the state -- rather than the "gaming industry" or a few rich racetrack owners -- own and operate the slots. Why limit their placement to racetracks?

Wrote TJI reader Caren Cutler: "If we absolutely have to have slots, how's this: A slot machine located wherever lottery tickets are sold. So when one gets change back at the local drugstore, supermarket, or convenience store, one can drop the change in the slot machine and give it a whirl!"

Another reader, Charles Baummer, has been thinking about where, if not at racetracks, the state might establish slot machine parlors. "I would like to offer a few suggestions on underused public and private space," Baummer wrote, then listed the following: the international terminal at BWI, the Columbus Center, the Baltimore Convention Center, Ravens Stadium (357 days of the year), Hunt Valley Mall, and the Black & Decker plant in Easton.

Why not at the Motor Vehicle Administration? Think of the revenue stream we could establish if the state offered "slots while you wait" at Mondawmin and Glen Burnie.

Urban legend or not?

TJI reader Roger Himler says he heard the story in a restaurant last week. It might be true. Or it might be the stuff of urban legend. But I present the details today on the outside chance that someone who was there -- at the King Birthday Celebration Parade on Jan. 20 in Baltimore -- might step forward and identify the hero.

According to what Himler heard, the horses of the city's mounted police unit blessed the parade route, as usual. There was no TESC -- Trailing Equine Specimen Collection -- specialist, so a man emerged from the corner of Saratoga and MLK Boulevard, and with borrowed newspaper and plastic bags, cleaned up what the horses had left behind, putting it all into nearby trash cans.

"The grateful crowd began handing the man money for his work," Himler quoted the stranger who told the story. Supposedly the man received more than $100. But, instead of pocketing it, the man bought cotton candy for the kids in the crowd.

Says Himler: "To me this is a heartwarming story whether or not it is true."

Yeah, but I'd feel a whole lot better about mankind if we had flesh to hang the deed on. Give us a call -- 410-332-6166 -- if you know anything about it. We'd love to have the -- forgive me -- scoop.

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