Maryland Lawmakers Hear Testimony on Slots

Slot-machine gambling was again before Maryland lawmakers March 6, but this year there’s little of the verve of days past in what has become almost a perennial debate.

A Senate committee heard testimony on a proposal by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller to allow slot machines at some Maryland racetracks. But given the new leadership in state capital--Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who defeated ardent slots backer Gov. Robert Ehrlich--the debate has little spark compared to years past.

O'Malley supports slots but has called for more time to review the state's budget before allowing them. Miller said his bill could raise $800 million a year.

The Senate has approved slots before, but proposals have failed in the House. Asked if 2007 was the year Maryland would approve slots, even slots supporter Sen. Ulysses Currie hedged his bets. “This is beginning of preparation for a comprehensive solution,”' said Currie, who leads the committee considering the slots bill.

As in years past, racing industry workers told lawmakers slots are crucial to reviving the state's flagging horse industry.

“The simple fact is, we're out of money,” said Alan Foreman, attorney for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. Horse owners, he said, “are on the edge of a cliff this year. They feel like they're bystanders in a drive-by shooting.”

Dire predictions also came from Lou Raffetto, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which earlier this year canceled the Pimlico Special (gr. I), the most prestigious race in the state after the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).

Opponents to slots seem confident the bill won’t become law this year even though the state faces a future deficit.