- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — A Democratic lawmaker who helped defeat Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s slot machine legislation last year is introducing his own slots bill.

Delegate Jon S. Cardin, Baltimore County Democrat, said yesterday he plans to introduce a measure as early as next week that will follow the findings of a six-month study by the House Ways and Means Committee.

“I tried to incorporate everything that we learned from our study,” said Mr. Cardin, a member of the committee which defeated Mr. Ehrlich’s plan after it was approved in the Senate. “I would call it a responsible way to expand gambling.”

The report was released last week. It suggests the state own the gambling facilities, compared with Mr. Ehrlich’s original plan that called for putting about 11,500 slot machines at four privately owned racetracks. It also recommends that the state keep the largest possible share of slot revenue, instead of giving much of the profits to track owners.

Mr. Cardin’s bill, if it follows the suggestions in the report to the letter, would also increase the take for breeders and winning horses and allow only one franchise per company.

The proposed bill and one by Delegate Clarence “Tiger” Davis, Baltimore Democrat, is another sign that lawmakers could compromise on slots legislation this session.

Mr. Davis, Baltimore Democrat, who is black, has written a bill that focuses on ensuring that black businesses have an equal chance at winning a gambling license.

He could not be reached yesterday for comment, but told the Baltimore Sun last month there is a “firm conviction that if there is not a majority ownership by a black entrepreneur in at least one of the facilities, the black caucus may be predisposed not to have any slots.”

Mr. Ehrlich said last week that “the more thoughts there are on the pro-slots side the better.”

Still, 18 Democratic lawmakers yesterday joined about 150 ministers and others opposed to slots at a news conference decrying any attempt to bring the machines to Maryland. The protesters said they would cap the event by sending 1.6 million e-mail messages condemning more legalized gambling to state voters.

“Slot machines in any form are simply not the solution,” said Delegate Anthony G. Brown, Prince George’s Democrat, who attended the news conference. “In fact they will become the problem.”

Sen. Ida G. Ruben, Montgomery Democrat, said slots are a “tax on the poor.”

Delegate Curtis S. “Curt” Anderson, Baltimore Democrat, said slots would “kill our city.”

“We have decided we could not sit back and be quiet,” he said.

Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, Baltimore County Democrat, said Mr. Ehrlich was sending a wrong message by trying to use slots revenue to improve public education.

“Think about what message this sends to students,” she said. “We are telling our children their education must be based on losses on gambling.”

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, also attended the rally.

“If you bring slots to Maryland casinos are going to follow,” he said. “And if you adopt slots you still [won’t] have enough money.”

Henry P. Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, said the protesters are in the minority because voters overwhelmingly support slot machines.

“Gambling is already in everyone’s back yard in the form of Keno, Pick 3, Pick 4 and scratch-offs,” he said. “Gambling is here so let’s use the money to fund education. … The only other alternative is an increase in the sales taxes, which is a regressive public policy and unacceptable to this governor.”

Mr. Ehrlich has already made a number of compromises to help pass the legislation.

He announced revised legislation last week that included a proposal to earn $2 billion annually through the 11,500 machines at the four tracks and an additional 4,000 machines at two sites other than racetracks.

The sites would be owned privately or by the state.

Mr. Ehrlich has attempted to win the support of House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, who disapproved of the plan over concerns that track owners will take too much of the slots profits. He also wants slots legislation linked to a 1-cent sales tax.

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