Maryland Voters to Decide on Slots

Maryland Voters to Decide on Slots
Photo: Jimmy McCue
The fate of slot machines at Laurel Park and other Maryland locations will be in the hands of the voters.

The Maryland legislature has approved a measure for a November 2008 referendum on slot machines, and also voted for a package that raises taxes in the state by $1.3 billion.

The Maryland Senate approved a final version of the slots referendum measure by a 31-13 vote late Nov. 18. The Senate also passed, by a vote of 25-19, legislation that spells out how slots revenue will be divvied up.

The Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill early Nov. 18 that contains the details of implementing slot-machine gambling if voters approve legalizing the machines in a November 2008 referendum.

The House managed the 71 votes needed to pass the measure. Forty-four delegates voted against the bill, 15 did not vote, and 11 were absent for the vote.

House Speaker Michael Busch, who has been a critic of politically divisive slot-machine legislation considered in recent years, said voters will now get a year to consider where the machines would be placed and how the industry would be regulated.

“They'll get a year to scrutinize it, and in November of 2008, you’ll have the purest form of democracy, which is a direct vote by eligible voters, the citizens of the state,” Busch said. “I think it’s the appropriate way.”

The bill, which defines how 15,000 machines would be distributed in five locations, complements another measure the House barely managed to pass Nov. 16 to hold a referendum on whether to legalize slots. The Nov. 16 House vote was 86-52, just one vote above the 85 needed for a three-fifths majority, to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide in the form of a constitutional amendment.

License owners would get 33% of the revenue, 3% above the initial proposal. Supporters of boosting the amount say it’s needed to enable license owners to compete with neighboring states in which slots are legal.

Nearly half of the slots revenue--48.5%--would go toward education. The amount for education would eventually rise to 51% after 2.5% set aside for racing-industry renewal expires after eight years. Purses at tracks would get 7% of the revenue.

The measure spells out a variety of details. It proposes putting 4,750 machines in Anne Arundel County, presumably at Laurel Park; 2,500 in Cecil County near the Delaware border; 2,500 in Worcester County, presumably at Ocean Downs harness track; 3,750 in Baltimore; and 1,500 in Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland in western Maryland.

Pimlico Race Course and Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track near Washington, D.C., would not get slots.

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