- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. may have a hard time selling members of his party on the idea of slot machines at racetracks.
Republican state senators and delegates have a history of opposing expansion of gambling. While some are ready to come around to Mr. Ehrlich's view, others remain unconvinced that slots would be good for the state and the racing industry.
The problem is more pronounced in the Senate, where Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus and Minority Whip Larry Haines say they cannot vote to expand gambling, even under the plan outlined by their gubernatorial candidate.
"This is one area where I respectfully disagree with him," said Mr. Stoltzfus, who represents Somerset County.
"I am pleased that his position permits slots only at racetracks and only when local governments allow it," Mr. Stoltzfus said. But he said that isn't enough to overcome his opposition.
Mr. Haines, who is from Carroll County, said Republican lawmakers "had a pretty long discussion with Bobby Ehrlich during the session on his slots proposal."
"I can't vote for it," Mr. Haines said.
He said he supports Mr. Ehrlich 100 percent, but "I haven't allowed liberals in Annapolis to shake my positions, and I'm not going to allow anyone else to."
Some Republican lawmakers are more amenable to Mr. Ehrlich's plan and are ready to vote for it or at least give it another look.
In the House of Delegates, the plan has the support of Minority Leader Alfred Redmer and Minority Whip James Ports, both of Baltimore County.
Sen. Robert Kittleman of Howard County, former minority leader in the House of Delegates and a strong opponent of gambling, said he has changed his mind and is willing to vote for a limited proposal such as that offered by Mr. Ehrlich.
"I still don't really like it," he said.
Mr. Kittleman said he is influenced by the state's serious budget problems and by the fact that Marylanders can drive easily to West Virginia and Delaware, which already allow slot machines at tracks.
Mr. Kittleman said Mr. Ehrlich's support for slots "shoved me along" toward a decision, but that he would have reached the same point even if the congressman from Baltimore County were not running for governor.
Support for slots is one of the issues Mr. Ehrlich is stressing in his campaign and one that separates him from Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a strong opponent of slot machines and casino gambling.
Mr. Ehrlich would allow slots only at racetracks including Allegany County, if one is built there and only if local governments approve. He said his plan could raise $400 million a year to help pay for a school aid bill passed by the legislature in April.
"Even people who have historically opposed slots recognize that they present an acceptable source of revenues for the state," said Paul Schurick, Mr. Ehrlich's campaign spokesman. "It certainly beats the alternative, which is raising taxes."
Mike Morrill, spokesman for Mrs. Townsend, challenged the accuracy of Mr. Ehrlich's $400 million figure.
"The only estimates I've heard are closer to $200 million," he said.
"The lieutenant governor has been very clear that the cost of slots are far more than the revenues that would be raised," Mr. Morrill said.
Slot machines would lead to increased crime, higher suicide rates and an increase in addiction to gambling, he said.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat, a supporter of slot machines at tracks, said Republicans in the legislature are in a dilemma because they would be pressured to vote with Mr. Ehrlich if he is elected governor and submits his bill for slot machines.
"In order to do that, they are going to have to change their positions," he said.
But Mr. Ports and Mr. Redmer said they could vote for Mr. Ehrlich's plan because it includes safeguards not contained in bills they have opposed in the past.
Mr. Ports said he objected to previous proposals because track owners would have been allowed to operate slot machines. Under Mr. Ehrlich's plan, the state would operate the slots and keep most of the money.
A recent poll conducted by Bethesda-based Potomac Inc. for the Baltimore Sun and the Gazette newspapers found 51 percent of likely voters supporting slot machines and 36 percent opposed a big change since a 1998 poll, when the figures were almost the reverse.
Mr. Redmer said his decision to support Mr. Ehrlich was not difficult because "I live in a district that I believe is overwhelmingly in support of slots."
But Mr. Haines and Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Republican whose district includes part of Carroll and Frederick counties, said sentiment runs strongly against slot machine gambling in their conservative districts.
"I don't think my district will allow me to vote for slots," Mr. Ferguson said.
Mr. Schurick said that in the end, Mr. Ehrlich believes a majority of Republicans and Democrats will agree to his plan.

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