- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — A leader of Hispanic Republicans in Maryland says he doubts that black lawmakers legally can broker a deal to secure ownership of two proposed slot-machine emporiums, but adds that Hispanics also might be interested in casino ownership.

“There would be a question mark in my mind as to whether or not minority ownership of slot emporiums or other gambling venues could actually be legislated or whether that would be where the lawyers take over,” Luis Borunda, chairman of the Hispanic Republicans of Maryland, told The Washington Times.

“But if it is something that could be legislated, then I am sure that other ethnic minorities — including Hispanics — would be interested in investing in Maryland’s economy from a national perspective,” Mr. Borunda said.

His group has 45 members and recently became the state party’s official Hispanic outreach arm.

The Times reported earlier this month that leaders of the 42-member Maryland Legislative Black Caucus would support Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s most recent plan to put 15,500 slot machines at four racetracks and two other sites along Interstate 95 if blacks are guaranteed ownership of the two off-track sites.

Mr. Borunda said he has no plans to talk to Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, about Hispanic ownership of gaming venues but is certain “some segments of the Hispanic community are interested in gambling.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s original plan to put about 11,500 slot machines at four tracks passed last year in the Senate but was killed by the Democrat-controlled House Ways and Means Committee.

The governor wants to use slots revenue to pay for the Thornton Education Reform Act, which attempts to close the disparity between rich and poor school districts. He said slots would generate $800 million a year if all 15,500 machines were operating.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, wants to finance the act with a 1-cent sales-tax increase.

All 42 members of the black caucus are Democrats and represent an important bloc of votes for Mr. Ehrlich, who says “minority involvement” is essential to the success of his slots legislation.

However, at least two caucus members and black church leaders remain opposed to any slots legislation.

Still, Mr. Borunda lauded the black caucus’ effort with Mr. Ehrlich.

“There are forces out there that would like nothing better than to see minorities divided on economic issues,” Mr. Borunda said.

“We know that, and we are not going to play into that. Whoever the African-Americans are that are brokering this deal, that is great for them. I don’t personally have any animosity toward them.”

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