- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — House Speaker Michael E. Busch yesterday said the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus is right to seek black ownership of proposed casinos along Interstate 95 in exchange for supporting the Ehrlich administration’s slot machines bill.

“If you are going in that direction, it is an appropriate consideration,” the Anne Arundel County Democrat said.

But Mr. Busch did not give any indication that his opposition to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s slots legislation has lessened.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that leaders of the 42-member caucus said they would support the Republican governor’s plan to collect revenue from slot machine licenses if Mr. Ehrlich guarantees that blacks would own two proposed gaming venues along I-95.

House Democrats, led by Mr. Busch, last year defeated Mr. Ehrlich’s slots legislation, which did not include the I-95 measure.

The House speaker yesterday said he doesn’t see the black caucus’ position as “breaking with the Democratic Party.”

“I think the black caucus advocates for equity in the African-American community,” Mr. Busch said. “I don’t see it as a Democrat or Republican issue.”

Mr. Busch has proposed state-owned slot machine parlors and has said the House will not pass a slots bill without tax increases, which Mr. Ehrlich opposes.

Meanwhile, Delegate Anthony G. Brown, Prince George’s County Democrat, said he remains opposed to slots. He was one of six black caucus members to rally against the legislation this week.

“It does not matter who owns the parlor, the activity itself is not consistent with my vision of Maryland’s future,” Mr. Brown said.

House Deputy Majority Whip Emmett C. Burns Jr., Baltimore County Democrat, agreed.

“We all have our individual positions,” Mr. Burns said of the caucus. “It is a known fact that I am against slots and that has not changed.”

House Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones, Baltimore County Democrat, said she is “100 percent sure” she will not vote for the plan, saying she believes “it’s bad public policy.”

But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Carolyn J.B. Howard, who last week said Mr. Ehrlich “doesn’t have the votes for any of his proposals,” yesterday said black ownership of casinos would make slots more appealing.

“Ownership is only one of the issues,” said Mrs. Howard, who represents Prince George’s County. “If you don’t have the black ownership in the plan, I definitely won’t vote for it.”

She said the plan would also need to add tourism to Prince George’s County, where one of the parlors could be located, and affect the community in a positive way.

Mr. Ehrlich has said minority ownership is an essential part of the slots legislation. “We think it is a good idea,” he told The Times.

His bill is essentially the same as last year’s in seeking revenue from licenses for 11,500 slot machines at four Maryland racetracks. He has included this year a measure that would set up 4,000 slot machines at two non-track sites along I-95 to garner support among House Democrats.

The governor said the additional parlors can be privately or state owned, and that a panel consisting of himself and Senate and House leaders would decide where to put the gaming facilities. He expects the state to make $2 billion annually from the revised plan to pay for the Thornton education-improvement plan.

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