Coalition taking shape against slots

Group of delegates joins ministers and Duncan to oppose Ehrlich plan

General Assembly

January 30, 2004|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Rallying with ministers, the county executive of Montgomery County and other anti-gambling forces across the state, a fledgling caucus of slots opponents in the House of Delegates plans to announce next week a coordinated effort to sink Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s initiative to legalize slot machines.

"I think it's very important that a group of us get together and draw a line in the sand, that we just do not want [slots]," said Del. Marvin E. Holmes Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat.

Holmes was among a group of 10 delegates who met this week to discuss strategies for defeating Ehrlich's proposal to bring 15,500 slot machines into the state.

Those delegates, along with other anti-gambling legislators, ministers and leaders of anti-slots groups, plan to hold a news conference Wednesday to unveil further details of their campaign.

Last year, the anti-slots cause was shouldered largely by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and a grass-roots movement of church leaders and community activists. Ehrlich got a slots bill narrowly passed in the Senate but it stalled in the House, due to Busch's opposition.

"This is going to be the kickoff where the widespread opposition to slots is demonstrated," said W. Minor Carter, a lobbyist for a coalition of anti-slots groups.

"We're going to have a number of high elected officials there, including House and Senate members," Carter said. "This is to show that [slots are] not inevitable."

Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, said it will also signal support for Busch's position.

"I think this will be very helpful to the speaker to have a very clear message from a large number of Marylanders that slots are a bad idea for Maryland," Franchot said.

But Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said opinion polls suggest the opposite is true.

"The overwhelming majority of Marylanders support slots," Fawell said. "They want the revenue to fund education. So does the governor."

The group of legislators that met this week to discuss ways to stop slots heard from a prominent slots opponent and potential future political rival of Ehrlich, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

Duncan said elected officials who think that gambling is a bad idea for Maryland need to speak out.

"It appears the only person who has a problem with slots in the state of Maryland is Mike Busch," Duncan said. "I'm speaking up. The delegates are going to speak up - and they're going to get senators to speak up with them."

He added, "People were kind of assuming this was going to happen anyway. We want people to understand that it is not inevitable and that we want a full debate on this."

Duncan said Ehrlich's chances of getting a slots bill passed this year are dimming as more people become aware of the long-term implications of opening the door in Maryland to casino-style gambling.

"We're going to [eventually] end up with casinos in every county and we're saying it's the wrong direction for the state," he said.

Franchot said the informal group of Democratic legislators that has met to discuss ways to defeat slots, in addition to himself and Holmes, are: Curtis S. Anderson of Baltimore; Mary Dulaney James of Harford County; Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County; John L. Bohanan Jr. of St. Mary's County; Charles E. Barkley of Montgomery County; Richard S. Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County; Elizabeth Bobo of Howard County; and Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's County.

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