State fair encourages legislators to allow slots

County executive's letter strongly opposes plan

October 31, 2003|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Maryland State Fair officials told lawmakers yesterday they are confident they could accommodate slot machines with minimal impact on the surrounding community.

"I think that the community and Baltimore County can benefit from having a [slots] operation here," said Howard M. "Max" Mosner Jr., president and general manager of the nonprofit Maryland State Fair and Agriculture Society Inc.

Legislators on the House Ways and Means Committee who are studying legalizing slots toured the fairgrounds in Timonium yesterday as part of their review of potential sites for expanded gambling.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch has suggested the possibility of building a state-controlled slots parlor at the fairgrounds, saying that could generate more money for the state treasury than giving slots licenses to privately owned racetracks, as the governor proposed early this year.

But the idea prompted an outcry from local residents and Baltimore County officials.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. was traveling outside of the country yesterday but county officials distributed a letter from him to legislators stressing he remains strongly opposed to slots in Timonium.

"If gambling is expanded at the Timonium Fairgrounds to include a slot machine gambling facility, significant and costly upgrades to roads in the immediate vicinity, to the light rail system, and to nearby interstate highways would be needed to accommodate new visitors and to prevent daily traffic gridlock," Smith wrote.

Mosner said a slots parlor might reduce traffic because the fair would cease holding craft shows and business expositions that draw tens of thousands of visitors.

Visitors tend to arrive for such shows in large numbers as doors open. But a slots emporium would draw smaller numbers throughout the day, he said.

Nancy H. Hill, a lobbyist for the state fair, said slot machines at Harrington Raceway in Delaware, which is the site of that state's fair, haven't created any traffic problems and there is no reason to believe such problems would arise in Timonium.

Del. Sheila E. Hixon, chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said she sees no reason why a slots emporium wouldn't work at Timonium if lawmakers decide to legalize the devices.

"I think it could work here, sure," she said. "There is the issue of roads and transportation. That seems to be the biggest factor everywhere we go."

F. Grove Miller, chairman of the fair's board of directors, suggested that a portion of slots money from Timonium could be designated to help Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore boost its purse.

"I don't believe that it would be the death of Pimlico," he said.

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