- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — About 100 church leaders from Prince George’s County yesterday voiced opposition to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s plan to reap revenue from slot-machine licensing.

“We are vehemently opposed to slot machines entering the state,” said the Rev. Jonathan L. Weaver, pastor of the 1,700-member Greater Mount Nebo AME Church in Upper Marlboro.

Mr. Weaver, president and co-founder of the Largo-based Collective Banking Group, said his group voted last week to condemn the Republican governor’s plan. The collective is a nonpartisan group that links 180 churches and their 20,000 followers with lenders and businesses.

“We fully recognize the harmful nature of slots,” Mr. Weaver said during a news conference here. “This creates all types of destructive behavior.”

The church leaders were joined by Democratic Delegates Anne R. Kaiser, Peter Franchot and Karen S. Montgomery, all of Montgomery County; Marvin E. Holmes Jr., Joanne C. Benson and Anthony G. Brown, all of Prince George’s County; and Curtis S. Anderson of Baltimore.

“We want everyone in the great state of Maryland to know that we also have family values,” Mr. Holmes said.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, also railed against the plan.

“Prince George’s and Baltimore have become the dumping ground,” said Mr. Duncan, who is considered a likely rival in Mr. Ehrlich’s re-election bid in two years. “It is an insult to people in those communities.”

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat, did not attend the news conference but earlier this month urged members of the county’s General Assembly delegation not to support any plan that would set up slot machines in the county.

Mr. Ehrlich has proposed licensing 11,500 slot machines at four racetracks and 4,000 others at two off-track sites along Interstate 95. The revenue from the licenses would be used to fund the Thornton Education Act, which calls for $1.3 billion in additional spending on schools by 2008.

The Senate has revised the plan so that 15,500 slot machines would be set up at six sites, with as many as four venues in Prince George’s County.

Leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus have said they would support the Ehrlich plan if blacks are assured ownership of new slots palaces.

Church leaders yesterday expressed concern about the machines’ effect on families. But they could not address the experience of residents on the Eastern Shore, where several charities have operated 250 slot machines since 1987. Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot and Wicomico counties have not seen a rise in crime or a decrease in family values.

“I can’t speak for people on the Eastern Shore,” Mr. Weaver said. “We are opposed to any new introduction of gambling.”

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