- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Michael Jones would welcome slot machines at the Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington the chance of winning easy cash excites him. It's also a lot easier than the 80-mile trip he sometimes makes to play at a Charles Town, W.Va., track.
"I would love to see [slots] come for the entertainment and fun," Mr. Jones, 43, said between wash loads at the Rosecroft Laundromat behind the track. "I really wouldn't see any problems with it."
His companion, Wanda Hall, disagrees.
"I have a big problem with it," said Miss Hall, 36. "My sister never gambled before in her life before she found out about slots. Now she's hooked, running off to the Dover [Delaware] track all the time."
While lawmakers in Annapolis are split over Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plan to allow slots at the state's three tracks, residents living in the neighborhoods around those tracks also are divided over how the new gambling would affect them.
Mr. Ehrlich must first get approval from the General Assembly to legalize slots, then persuade legislators to pass a budget that relies heavily on slot revenue. The governor was forced to revise his plan, giving the racetracks a greater share of the $1.5 billion in annual revenue he expected from slots.
Most would go to schools and the tracks, leaving a relatively small portion for the towns and cities that would handle the expected influx of slots players.
The new gambling also has sparked fears of crime, traffic and an erosion of the moral fabric of their communities. Some residents say the amount local cities and towns would get under Mr. Ehrlich's plan isn't enough to cover the costs of extra police, new roads and other changes slots will necessitate.
But some residents welcome the extra business that slots would bring, business that now goes to go tracks in Delaware and West Virginia.
"It's kind of torn right down the middle," said Laurel city spokesman Jim Collins. "Some people say we've had gambling here on horses for a long time anyway, while others say the traffic is going to be a problem."
Mr. Ehrlich's plan calls for 3,500 slot machines at each track Laurel Park, Rosecroft, and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. That would place them among the largest track-based casinos in the nation.
Counties where tracks are located would share in about $55 million of the revenues, but they would not be obligated to spend it on the neighborhoods bordering the tracks. Gamblers could play slots at the tracks from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Local leaders were looking for much more money from Mr. Ehrlich, whose plan would give the most revenues, almost $655 million, to the track operators.
Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson had hoped for 16 percent of the total revenues as the county is home to Rosecroft and would be affected by slots at the Laurel track, close to the county's northern border.
Mr. Johnson has told members of the county's delegation to vote their conscience on the slots proposal, but he frets that the interests of the cities and towns could be forgotten.
"We have to at some point come together as a community and protect the interests of Prince George's County," he said.
Anti-slots activists have rallied against the plan, organizing rallies and trying to raise local awareness of what they say is the darker side of slots gambling addiction, traffic-choked roads and crime.
Bonnie Bick, a member of the Campaign to Reinvest in the Heart of Oxon Hill, wants money to flow into her neighborhood located a few miles away from Rosecroft, where residents need better schools, more police and new jobs. But she doesn't want that money to come from slots.
"Oxon Hill has been working hard on basic fundamental survival, we want change," she said. "But we want positive change. Slots doesn't fit into that category."
Some religious leaders say slots will devastate low-income and largely black neighborhoods around the tracks. Pimlico and Rosecroft are in mostly minority areas.
"What comes along with slots is going to tear down the moral fabric of our community," said Preston Rivers of the From the Heart Church Ministries in nearby Temple Hills.
Attempts to reach Tom Chuckes, the general manager of Rosecroft, for comment were unsuccessful.
The city of Laurel, which borders Laurel Park, expects to see about $250,000 a year from the slots plan, said Mr. Collins. But city officials are still unclear about how big the financial effect will be since portions of the track sit physically in two different jurisdictions.
The racing oval is in Anne Arundel County, the parking lot is in Howard County and none of it is in Laurel. But city fire crews and police respond to emergency calls at the track, Mr. Collins said. Laurel's roads also are likely to be heavily used by gamblers on their way to the track.
Some residents living near Rosecroft say the ease of playing slots at the track and the money it would bring to the neighborhood outweigh the problems.
"I have no objections if they're going to use the money toward helping out the community," said "Tee" Shelton, 41, from Temple Hills. "A lot of people go to Dover for slots, so why not keep it here?"
But another Rosecroft Laundromat customer, Lauria Hall, 43, said she has moral and religious objections to gambling. She has worried about it for a while, saying it played a big part in her decision not to vote for Mr. Ehrlich in the fall.
"I don't believe in that lifestyle," she said. "Slots were a big reason I didn't vote for that person."

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