Support for Maryland Slots Waning

The proposal by Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. for slot machines at Maryland racetracks has run aground amid bickering over division of proceeds, minority involvement and lack of specifics. However, Ehrlich is working feverishly to lift his plan from the muck and rally support from lawmakers growing increasingly skeptical.

Ehrlich was elected in November after campaigning for slots as the best way of eliminating the huge state-budget deficit and aiding the struggling racing industry. Since the state's General Assembly convened in January for its 90-day session, the governor and his staff have come under increasing criticism for mishandling the issue.

"Their performance is so monumentally bad, it's hard to know precisely how to say it," Del. Kumar P. Barve, majority leader of the House of Delegates, told The Baltimore Sun.

After proposing a bill authorizing slots and then withdrawing it amid widespread objections, Ehrlich went back to the drawing board. His new bill was to have been released the week of March 2. It was expected to include a larger slice of the proceeds for track owners, who had balked at the 25-percent share and $350 million licensing fees in the first bill.

That change in favor of owners and racing, in turn, was expected to unleash further criticism. Critics have questioned the wisdom of helping an industry they see as obsolete and enriching owners they see as greedy.

"I'm not supporting making a bunch of white men rich who are owners of racetracks," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rawlings, an influential African-American legislator, and others have insisted upon minority involvement in slots operations. As a result, a group of African-American investors including former sports stars Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Joe Washington and Franco Harris have met with key legislators and opened discussions with track owners.

Meanwhile, everyone awaited Ehrlich's revised bill and its specifics of revenue distribution. On those figures is the fate of slots in Maryland expected to turn.