As the Maryland General Assembly looks again toward legalizing slot machine gambling to solve budget woes, Pennsylvania's experience could serve as a cautionary tale.
Six months after Pennsylvania's legislature passed a law that permits 61,000 slot machines at 14 locations, state officials are still struggling to launch their gambling program.
The board appointed to oversee slots is just beginning to set up an office and hire a regulatory staff. No licenses have been issued, and none are expected to be issued for months. Even slots backers say it could be another year or more before the first machines are in place in Pennsylvania and begin to generate money designated for property tax relief.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced Friday that he will try for the third time to get a slots bill passed through the General Assembly. Slots bills have passed the Senate each of the past two years but have been blocked in the House of Delegates.
Ehrlich's proposal would allow 15,500 slot machines statewide, spread among four racetrack locations and two non-racetrack "destination locations" that have not yet been determined.
A spokesman for Ehrlich said the governor believes some slot machines could be in place and generating money within a year of a bill's passing.
But Pennsylvania has encountered an array of unexpected hurdles in getting its slots program under way.
Since Pennsylvania's legislature passed slots legislation in the midnight hours on the eve of the July 4 holiday weekend, there have been these developments:
Gov. Edward G. Rendell's first pick to lead a board charged with overseeing slots stepped down after news reports detailed his work as a private investigator for an alleged mob associate.
An anti-gambling group filed a lawsuit challenging the way Pennsylvania's slots law was passed. The suit could block the state from issuing licenses until the constitutional issues it raises are resolved.
Erie's mayor, Rick Filippi, has been indicted on public corruption charges because of his alleged insider dealings on a land transaction related to a proposed slots casino development. He has pleaded not guilty.
Some school boards are balking at tying themselves to slots. The law sets a complicated formula that allows school systems to use slots money to reduce property taxes for local homeowners but requires them to raise local wage taxes. The fewer school boards that participate, the fewer homeowners who will get the promised property tax relief.
The slots law, which supersedes local zoning control, identified geographic areas but not specific sites for five stand-alone slots casinos - sparking bitter squabbles among politically connected businessmen and groups vying for these licenses.
Those five licenses are in addition to seven awarded to horse racing tracks, which include three new tracks that are being built in anticipation of slots. Each facility is allowed up to 5,000 machines. The law also provides for two smaller resort licenses limited to 500 slot machines each.
Slots supporters in the Keystone State say the process is moving along as expected and express confidence that the state will end up with a successful program that will create jobs and benefit the state's taxpayers.
"I think everybody has to go with the flow here," said Thomas M. Kauffman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association. "This is a complex undertaking, and it's going to take some time."
Kauffman and other slots supporters say the tracks could get conditional licenses by early next year and have temporary facilities in place soon after, allowing them to open for business with a limited number of slot machines.
But few in Pennsylvania are taking bets on when the state will begin hearing the rattle of slot tokens dropping into metal hoppers.
Nick Hays, spokesman for Pennsylvania's Gaming Control Board, said that launching a slots program is a complicated task, and no target dates have been set.
"The board itself does not have any kind of a time frame," he said. "They're going to take the time necessary to do it right."
Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians are getting their first glimpse of some of the less savory elements that often surround efforts to legalize casino-style gambling.
Besides the embarrassment over the Rendell appointee to the gaming control board and the indictment of Erie's mayor, there are other controversies, including a provision in the legislation that allows legislators and other public officials to have up to a 1 percent ownership stake in slots casinos.
That has left anti-gambling activists who tried unsuccessfully to persuade lawmakers to vote against legalizing casino-style gambling saying, "We told you so."
Michael Geer, president of Pennsylvanians Against Gambling Expansion, said attitudes in the state toward slots are quickly souring.