- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

The Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association will not back the Ehrlich administration’s plan to place slot machines at the state’s racetracks, the latest survey conducted by the association’s members shows.

Susan Jones, the association’s executive director, said 79 percent of the members who answered the survey are either “somewhat” or “strongly opposed” to some form of gambling in Maryland.

“We continue to remain opposed, and we are not going to change our opinion just because other associations have changed their opinion,” Mrs. Jones said referring to the membership and the board.

Last month, the Maryland Restaurant Association reversed its position after a survey of its 3,000 members found that 63 percent favored some form of gambling in the state. Also last month, more than 300 members of the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association said they favored casino gambling and slots, as long as at least 1 percent of proceeds are set aside for promotion of tourism.

The Ocean City association’s survey — which was to be completed last month, but delayed due to light response — makes the association one of few that still oppose Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s plan. Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, has said the plan is needed to fund the Thornton education plan beyond 2005.

Mrs. Jones said 58, or 26 percent, of the association’s 223 hotels, motels and restaurants participated in the survey.

Asked whether they favor or oppose legalizing slots at racetracks, 70 percent of business owners said they opposed the plan, according to Mrs. Jones.

Another 75 percent opposed slots in Ocean City, and 85 percent opposed full casinos, she said.

“It is still a hot topic for sure,” Mrs. Jones said. “We have been fighting it for eight years and the train is coming quickly and it looks like it may become reality.”

Mrs. Jones said the results will be forwarded to board members, who will finalize the organization’s position.

Mr. Ehrlich’s spokesman, Henry P. Fawell, said more than a year ago the governor promised the community that the state would not bring slots to Ocean City and that has not changed.

“He respects that and agrees with their position,” he said.

Ocean City Mayor James Mathias, a Democrat, said last month he and members of the City Council oppose slots because the machines would undermine the resort community. “There are only so many disposable dollars out there to go around,” the mayor told Ocean City Today.

Mr. Mathias’ opposition comes as Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat who is considered the linchpin in the slots debate, recently announced that he also will not support slots. Mr Busch cited concerns about racetrack owners receiving too much of the profits. Mr. Busch also referred to a recent study that suggests the plan would be more effective if slots were put in casinos.

Before announcing his opposition, Mr. Busch had suggested this past summer that he might change his mind, especially if state-run gambling emporiums were created for the slot machines or if they were put in more than the four tracks designated by Mr. Ehrlich. Those racetracks were Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, Rosecroft Raceway in southern Prince George’s County, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and the proposed Little Orleans in Cumberland.

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