- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2004

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. urged leaders in Maryland’s horse industries yesterday to unite and push for slot machines to avoid losing ground to neighboring states that use slots to increase revenue.

“It is time to act,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican. “I am tired of fooling around. … I don’t know what else to say about this issue. … It is time to get this done.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s statements yesterday to about 250 people who attended a Maryland Horse Forum’s luncheon at Prince George’s Equestrian Center was reminiscent of others he has made in recent months to leaders of other Maryland industries.

“You must speak with one voice in Annapolis,” Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday to the group. “Everybody needs to get their act together.” The audience included about 15 legislators.

Mr. Ehrlich also said he was tired of negotiating with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, who has held up the governor’s slots bill, which he has said would help make the state’s horse tracks more competitive.

Mr. Ehrlich has said Mr. Busch’s action endangers the state’s economy, public education and the Preakness Stakes — part of Maryland’s more than $1 billion equine industry.

“There needs to be a resolution,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “Right now, talking to the speaker [is] wasting my time.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, has backed Mr. Ehrlich’s plan for the past two years and agrees with his assessment.

“The budget is going to fall squarely on the Democrats for not implementing slots,” Mr. Miller said, “and rightfully so.”

For two years, Mr. Busch has led the defeat of Mr. Ehrlich’s plan to put more than 15,500 slot machines at four horse tracks and two off-track sites along Interstate 95.

He has suggested a $670 million increase in income and sales taxes to help racing, improve public education and reduce a state budget shortfall. After the 2004 General Assembly ended in April, Mr. Busch said he would consider a referendum on slots, which Mr. Ehrlich said is not his “preferred option.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, signed a bill in July to put 61,000 slot machines at 14 locations in the state, making it the third state with horse racing that borders Maryland to have slots.

Investors in the District have been unsuccessful with their proposal to open a gambling hall on New York Avenue NW with 3,500 slots-like video lottery terminals but have vowed to continue their efforts.

Henry Holloway, owner of the Mill of Bell Air, which sells livestock feed, said yesterday that he hopes Mr. Ehrlich’s speech bridges the longstanding gaps between agriculture, boarding stables, competitive riding, horse racing, recreational riding, support industries, tourism, training and veterinary services.

“I certainly think this forum is going to help unify those different segments,” he said.

William K. Boniface, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, agreed.

“The more we can do together the better off we are,” he said.

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