Slots effort is dead, Ehrlich declares

Governor's plan won't be revived until after 2006 election, he says

General Assembly

April 10, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declared his slot machine gambling bill dead for the year yesterday, and said the issue would be revived only after his 2006 re-election campaign.

Asked on a radio show yesterday whether House Speaker Michael E. Busch's insistence on his version of a slots bill meant a program to expand gambling was dead, Ehrlich said yes.

"It's a crying shame," said the governor, who has complained of partisan opposition to his initiatives. "The leadership has told me they will not allow a slots referendum on the ballot with my name on the ballot at the same time," Ehrlich said. "In essence, this means that slots is dead for two more years."

This year's session ends tomorrow at midnight.

Last summer Ehrlich rejected the concept of a referendum on slots on the November 2004 ballot, which would have amended the state constitution to allow an additional form of gambling.

Meeting with Busch

Ehrlich's remarks on the WBAL radio show Stateline with Governor Ehrlich came less than a day after a private meeting with Busch to determine whether the speaker was willing to negotiate further on slots.

The House and the Senate passed different versions of a slots plan this year. The House plan contained fewer machines (9,500 versus 15,500 in the Senate proposal) and required competitive bidding to locate them in Anne Arundel, Allegany, Frederick and Harford counties.

The Senate plan called for seven unspecified locations, four at racetracks and three elsewhere.

Asked yesterday whether he agreed that the slots proposal was finished for the year, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a leading slots supporter, said, "It's probably so."

"You never want to say never," he added. "I'm willing to work around the clock. I'll keep them here on Sunday if it's a chance it will pass."

Miller and others have expressed frustration that Marylanders are spending their money on slots in West Virginia and Delaware, and will soon be doing so in Pennsylvania.

Busch has opposed providing lucrative entitlements to racetrack owners. He rejected criticism yesterday that the House bill was flawed or needed to be altered, and said the Senate should have accepted it. The House plan passed by one vote in March.

Holding their cheers

"The only bill with any specifics in it ... is the bill that came out of the House," Busch said.

Slots opponents said they would cheer the demise of the gambling initiative only after the session ended.

"We are dealing with wealthy, greedy people, and they are not going to give up without trying something," said Del. Curtis S. Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat.

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