Legislator Proposes Slots at Maryland Racetracks

Despite signals from political leaders that legislation legalizing slot machines doesn’t have much chance of passing this year, a legislator has raised the issue again.

Democratic Delegate Galen Clagett has introduced a bill that would allow more than 12,000 slot machines at Maryland racetracks. The tax proceeds--estimated to be more than $500 million a year--would go to help build schools. Clagett said the long-debated slots legislation is necessary this year because the state faces a projected deficit in future years since spending is going up faster than tax revenue.

“I think it has a better chance this year,” he said of the slots bill.

Democrats who lead the legislature--and Democratic Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley--appear to disagree. O’Malley supports slot machines but has told reporters that he doesn’t’ see a need this year for a new “revenue enhancement.”

House Speaker Michael Busch has questioned whether Maryland needs slots. Even Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, who supports slots, said Maryland shouldn’t rush to find new revenue sources until lawmakers take a longer look at the state pocketbook.

Gambling has become one of the touchiest subjects for lawmakers in recent years. Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich pushed hard for a slots bill, saying it would help boost revenue and preserve the horse racing industry. A slots bill was proposed each of the last four years, and four bills made it out of at least one chamber of the legislature, but lawmakers never agreed on a final version.

Clagett said his optimism comes because O’Malley, a Democrat, may be better able to massage the bill through the legislature than Ehrlich, who clashed with the Democratic legislature. House Republican Leader Anthony O’Donnell said many in the GOP still want to try to approve slots.