Idea of slots at bars, liquor stores floated

Owners expected to offer plan

Ehrlich, lawmakers say they won't support it

November 04, 2003|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Broadening the rancorous debate over expanding gambling in Maryland, bar and liquor store owners are expected to propose that they be allowed to have slot machines in their establishments.

The Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association's governing board will meet Wednesday and vote on a proposal to seek slot machines, an idea Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and legislative leaders pronounced yesterday dead on arrival.

"We're going on the assumption that they would be where Keno is sold," said Jay Binau, a Hagerstown liquor store owner who serves as the association's president. "It'd just be another form of gaming."

Such establishments should be allowed to have four to five slot machines each, Binau said, similar to what West Virginia allows at its bars and social clubs.

"We're not in favor of it just being at racetracks," Binau said of slots. "If we're going to just have it at racetracks only, we'd rather not have it."

A spokesman for the governor, Henry Fawell, said, "The governor does not support slots at bars."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who supports putting slots at Maryland horse racing tracks, said he can't see allowing the devices in bars.

"It's too ridiculous to even contemplate," Miller said. "If we're going to allow them, they need to be contained to an appropriate setting."

He said that convenience gambling in neighborhood taverns is different from having to drive to a racetrack or similar destination location to gamble.

House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch said the public won't tolerate that degree of proliferation and said there is little political support for slots at bars.

"If you said that there were going to be six slot machines in every local pub and restaurant, I think people all across the state would be totally against any gambling expansion," Busch said.

The slots-at-bars idea is emerging as a legislative panel studying legalizing slots prepares for the last road trip of its statewide tour. Legislators will travel to Western Maryland tomorrow to examine potential sites for slot machines.

The Licensed Beverage Association, which represents 1,300 liquor retail outlets around the state, has scheduled a meeting for the same day to vote on its slots proposal.

Joseph A. Schwartz III, the liquor association's lobbyist, said the group's slots proposal could include a provision for referendum votes so that voters in each jurisdiction could decide whether to allow slots at bars.

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