Maryland voters approved legalizing slot machines in a Nov. 4 constitutional amendment, paving the way for up to 15,000 machines in five locations--perhaps two of them racetracks--and ending years of debate between lawmakers who never managed to pass the measure on their own.
With 66% of precincts reporting, approval of the measure received 59% of the vote, the Associated Press reported. The sites approved by voters are in Anne Arundel, Cecil, and Worcester counties; the city of Baltimore; and on state property in Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland.
Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County and Ocean Downs in Worcester County are the two racetracks the could end up with slots. Laurel and Pimlico Race Course are owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., while Ocean Downs, a harness track, is owned by William Rickman, who also owns Delaware Park.
On Nov. 5, MEC, which operates as the Maryland Jockey Club, said it "expects to pursue a (slots) license for Laurel Park as soon as practicable after the administrative aspects of the license application process are finalized by applicable regulators." Though Pimlico won't have slots, it would share in the revenue, as would all tracks in the state.
"Today is a very important day for horse racing in Maryland," MJC president and chief operating officer Tom Chuckas said in a statement. "The voters of Maryland have approved a measure that we at the Maryland Jockey Club are confident will help save an industry that we love and that employs thousands of Maryland residents. We expect that introducing (slots) in our state will put Maryland racing back on a more even playing field with its neighboring states."
The vote could bring about a return of harness racing to Rosecroft Raceway, which closed for live racing earlier this year because of financial difficulties.
Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who proposed the referendum idea, said slots are badly needed to help fix the state's big budget deficits. "We're already facing some really tremendous challenges because of the downturn in the economy, and if this had been rejected, we would have doubled those challenges," O'Malley said.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, who battled hard against slots, told the Associated Press local communities will begin "to wrestle with this issue anew, deciding whether to change their planning" and zoning laws to allow slots.
"The task of balancing our state budget and meeting our critical needs has been made that much harder because so much has been promised to so many," Franchot said in a statement. "People have been told that they can get something for nothing and we all know that that is not the case."
Opponents have indicated they plan to fight slots on the local level. The approval process for exact locations hasn't even begun.
O'Malley included the referendum as part of his plan to address a structural deficit during last year's special session. Worsening economic conditions have created annual budget deficits in the area of $1 billion for the next several years, causing supporters to press the importance of the financial lift in recent months.
The state could receive $90 million for the next fiscal year through the sale of slot machine licenses. Once slots are fully operational in fiscal year 2013, slots could generate as much as $660 million a year for the state, according to state projections.