Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

June 04, 2005

No guarantee slots would save the Preakness

Now that the state budget crisis is over and can't be used as an excuse for slots, the political pressure is on to justify slots to save the Preakness by granting slots to Magna Entertainment Corp. ("Busch: Md. must look away from slots," May 26). But where's the explanation of how slots will actually preserve the Preakness?

Magna is disappointing increasingly impatient investors. Horse racing is not a growth industry, and its center of gravity is moving to Sun Belt retirement states, where most of its aging fan base now lives.

In this investor-driven economy, quick double-digit returns for investors rather than the long-term good of communities and employees are what rules. If slots don't pay off big, and soon, this public, out-of-state corporation will move its investment elsewhere anyway.

And with slots at the tracks, racing is destined to be a nostalgic, second-rate appendage to the year-round slots parlor.

With the proliferation of slots in surrounding states, there will be an inevitable ultimatum to up the stakes and allow Vegas-style gambling with another threat to leave.

Slots would not really save horse racing. They would open upMaryland to full-scale casinos.

If the governor and the Senate president think slots would save the Preakness, they need to specify the safeguards that would accomplish this goal.

If larger purses would truly save racing, as slots proponents contend, then why doesn't the state just subsidize purses, just as it would provide incentives to other industries?

And better land-use controls to prevent suburban sprawl and agriculture-friendly policies could also help horse breeders and also aid beleaguered farmers.

But let's not bet the farm on the one-trick-pony of slots.

Eric Waller

Baltimore

Gambling would add to the state's appeal

My congratulations to Michael Hill on his uplifting article "Charm City is a winner, the experts now believe" (May 29). Baltimore surely has been a wonderful place to live, and grow, even before Frommer's gave the city its imprimatur.

However, Mr. Hill sarcastically criticized NBC Sports for its coverage of the Preakness Stakes as melancholy because "the poobahs won't vote to allow a bunch of poor people to lose a lot of money in slot machines so it can help finance the Sport of Kings." As a supporter of slots in Maryland, I believe that this is the canard that has been utilized by many Democratic politicians, especially state House Speaker Michael E. Busch, to play political "hardball" against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Slots are the tool being used to show that Mr. Ehrlich cannot get the state's business accomplished, and will be featured in all the negative attack ads in the 2006 gubernatorial election in Maryland.

But does it not dawn on people that slots in Maryland would not only be for Marylanders?

It is true that many Marylanders would gamble in Maryland instead of taking precious dollars to Delaware, West Virginia and New Jersey. But slots would also lure people from other states to Maryland to partake in Maryland gambling, and thus add more allure to the state and revenues to the state treasury.

Imagine what this could mean for other businesses in Maryland: restaurants, shopping malls, historic sites, the Orioles and the Ravens. We would all benefit.

Since Baltimore made the top 10 list of places to visit this summer without slots, imagine what it could be with them.

Metaphorically, Baltimore may be the "gem," but the state could be the "setting" in a tourist display par excellence.

If only the legislature would act.

John Reynolds

Dundalk

One new state law combats obesity

The Sun's article about the 171 Maryland bills Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. recently signed omitted mention of one that is incredibly important to the health of our children ("Governor signs public safety bills," May 27).

The legislation requires the Maryland State Department of Education to hire a permanent, full-time director of physical education.

It is amazing to me that given the extent of our childhood obesity epidemic, it took a legislative initiative to make this happen.

I understand that the schools are playing to the Leave No Child Behind requirements, but in so doing, they are in danger of leaving behind the whole child. The "sound mind in the sound body" concept is sound.

Children learn best when they are physically fit. (They also do better when they are well-nourished, but we'll save that for the 2006 Assembly.)

My congratulations to Mr. Ehrlich for signing the bill, to the Senate and House champions who moved the bill and to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, in advance, for doing what must be done to implement the requirements of this new law.

Our children deserve no less.

Michaeline R. Fedder

Baltimore

The writer is director of advocacy in Maryland for the American Heart Association.

Secretary of state oversees charities

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