4 counties that may get slots weigh potential impact of bill

In House plan, devices go to Allegany, Arundel, Frederick and Harford

General Assembly

February 26, 2005|By Phillip McGowan and Ted Shelsby | Phillip McGowan and Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Officials of Anne Arundel and Harford counties were trying to figure out if slots might be coming their way after the House of Delegates narrowly approved a measure yesterday to legalize the machines in Maryland.

The two Baltimore-area counties were among four statewide included in a bill that would allow up to 9,500 slot machines in Maryland, including 3,500 in Anne Arundel. The other sites would be in Allegany and Frederick counties.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, voted against the bill and stressed that its narrow passage means House leaders would be unwilling to reconcile the differences between the delegates' proposal and the Senate-approved measure backed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Still, leaders in Busch's home county were weighing the impact.

Anne Arundel officials said two provisions appeared to ensure that slots would be placed at Laurel Park racetrack.

Provisions would require that any slot machine sites in Anne Arundel be located within two miles of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and not take away jobs from an existing business such as racing at Laurel.

Anne Arundel has not opposed slots, as long as the machines go to Laurel Park and the state agrees to pay the infrastructure costs.

"I certainly don't want to see them at Arundel Mills," said Del. Mary Ann Love, an Anne Arundel Democrat who voted against the bill.

Love said that representatives of the mall expressed interest in slots last year but that the bill passed yesterday was tailored to Laurel.

The presence of slots is expected to attract more business and raise the profile of the recently renovated racetrack. But community leaders differed about the impact on an area that, they say, receives marginal attention from the county.

About three-fourths of residents from nearby Maryland City surveyed by phone recently supported slots at Laurel Park, said Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association. Residents said the financial shot in the arm that the track would receive would translate into economic benefits for nearby areas.

Tim Reyburn, president of the Russett Community Association, said he worries that if slots come to Laurel Park, the racetrack will evolve into a casino not focused on racing.

Such an establishment could become a breeding ground for criminal activity, said Reyburn, adding that one area near the track has a prostitution problem.

In Harford County, Judy Blomquist, president of Friends of Harford, which tracks growth issues in the county, called yesterday's vote "scary."

"I don't like it at all," she said, adding that she disapproves of "building government on the backs of the poor and the weak."

The House bill would provide 2,500 slots at locations in Harford and Frederick counties and 1,000 at Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County.

Although seven of eight Harford legislators backed the bill, some stressed that it is far from a done deal.

Del. Barry Glassman, a Harford Republican who chairs the county delegation, said he voted for the bill but would vote against any compromise with senators that puts slots in the county.

"Lord knows if we will see it again if it goes to conference committee," he said. "My gut feeling is that we won't."

Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.

Dueling slots plans

House

Number of machines: 9,500.

Four locations, one each in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Harford and Allegany counties.

Licenses awarded through a competitive bid by a panel headed by the state treasurer; license holders would receive up to 30 percent of proceeds after winners are paid.

State share: $330 million annually, mainly for school construction, with $50 million for education and about $160 million for counties and Baltimore City.

Senate

Number of machines: 15,500.

Seven locations, four at racetracks and three at nontrack locations anywhere in the state.

Licenses to be awarded by a commission controlled by the governor; track license holders to receive up to 36 percent of proceeds; nontrack locations get up to 30 percent.

State share: Estimated $915 million annually, for school operations and construction.

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