- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — If Maryland decides to legalize slot-machine gambling, an overwhelming majority of voters think the state should maintain control over the machines rather than having them operated by racetrack owners, according to a poll released today.

In the poll by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies, 62 percent of 831 registered voters questioned over seven days beginning Oct. 20 said the state should retain financial control and hire experts to manage slot machines. Eleven percent said the state should allow the racing industry to control slot-machines facilities, 8 percent said licenses to operate facilities should be auctioned off to the highest bidder, and 19 percent had no opinion on the question.

The poll, made available to Maryland media organizations by the political polling and research company, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Asked whether Maryland should legalize slot machines, 56 percent of the voters supported slots and 34 percent opposed them with 10 percent undecided. That was about the same as a Gonzales poll taken two months ago.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants to authorize slot machines at racetracks, and the state Senate approved his slots bill during the 2003 General Assembly session. The governor’s bill was killed by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Paul Schurick, Mr. Ehrlich’s communications director, said yesterday the poll is further evidence that although there may be disagreement on where slot machines should be located and who should operate them, “a clear majority of Marylanders support legalizing slot machines in Maryland.”

Mr. Ehrlich still supports slots but says he will not introduce a bill next year unless there is evidence that House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, is ready to withdraw his opposition. Mr. Busch played a major role in killing Mr. Ehrlich’s bill in the spring.

Mr. Busch, who said the governor’s bill was poorly drafted and would have given racetrack owners “an outrageous share” of revenues, hasn’t said what he will do on the issue when the legislature convenes in January.

He said the poll indicates that if slots are legalized, voters want them “to be controlled as much as possible by the state of Maryland with the greatest profitability [to the state] and the greatest consumer protection.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat and a longtime supporter of slot-machine gambling, opposes having the state operate the machines. They should be managed by professionals who know how the gambling industry should operate, he said.

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