AFL-CIO president lends support to plans to legalize slot machines

Chapter leader says jobs would help Pimlico area

January 14, 2004|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

The president of the Maryland-D.C. chapter of the AFL-CIO, who represents about 1,000 workers at Maryland racetracks, spoke in favor of electronic gambling devices yesterday at a rally inside a Parks Heights barbershop.

About 70 people attended the rally and called on state legislators to pass a bill approving slots, which they say could help improve the Pimlico and Park Heights areas by giving those communities a much-needed economic development boost that could reduce crime.

Fred D. Mason Jr., the AFL-CIO chapter president, said he supports slots and the proposal by Magna Entertainment Inc. -- the owner of Pimlico racetrack -- to build a $5.2 million job training center in the vacant Park Heights Elementary School.

"Labor unions in Maryland support slots at these two racetracks because Magna Entertainment and the Maryland Jockey Club have stepped up to the plate and demonstrated their commitment to workers' rights and good jobs," Mason said.

In an interview after the rally, Mason said the AFL-CIO supports of the slots plan because it will bring jobs.

"We're respectful and mindful of people that are opposed to gaming on moral grounds. However, we engage this discussion from the perspective of economic and social development," Mason said. "There's no other major jobs creation project on the table, either in the Baltimore City Council or in Annapolis. Slots at Pimlico and Laurel will create over 1,000 permanent jobs."

Shortly after the rally in Park Heights, the Laurel Clergy Association held a demonstration opposing slots. "We said we are against slots and asked local officials to oppose slots," said Kevin McGhee, senior pastor of Bethany Community Church.

McGhee said his organization gave Laurel High School's principal a check for $1,250 to prove "there's other ways to help schools."

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made slots the centerpiece of his legislative agenda last year, saying the machines are needed to pay for ambitious education improvements called for by the Thornton Commission. The measure, which called for slots at racetracks only, passed by a narrow margin in the Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates.

Prodded by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Ehrlich said he will try again for a slots bill this year. Though he has not disclosed the changes he plans to make to last year's bill, observers say it could seek gambling inside and outside of tracks.

Ronald D. Billy, 63, president of the Pimlico Merchants Association, said yesterday that slots could mean a "new beginning" for the community.

He said slots could help attract business customers as well as gamblers.

Johnny Clinton, 61, owner of Park Heights Barbershop, wore a button yesterday that read: "Slots Yes! Keep Maryland Money Home."

The issue is bigger than gambling, he said.

"It's not all just about the slots, it's about the community," Clinton said. "We have people ... who truly believe that slots will help this community as far as getting businesses to grow and new businesses to come in."

Sun staff writer Greg Garland contributed to this article

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.