- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday said he believes the Ehrlich administration will strike a deal with lawmakers to establish slot-machine gambling during the next legislative session.

“Slots will likely be resolved in this session,” Mr. Steele said during a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “I think people are tired of it. I think the general consensus is, ‘Can we get this done?’”

He added that the purchase of Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill by relatives of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos is “a significant step forward in that discussion.”

Mr. Angelos’ wife and son have agreed to buy the ailing horse-racing track for $13 million. Under Major League Baseball regulations, Mr. Angelos himself is not allowed to have gambling interests. The deal still must be approved by the state racing commission, which has indicated its approval.

Mr. Steele, a Prince George’s County Republican, said he favors placing slot machines at Rosecroft rather than National Harbor, a waterfront development under construction in the county, because the track “is an established gambling venue.”He added that placing slots at National Harbor and not at Rosecroft would be a slap in the face of Mr. Angelos.

The lieutenant governor also said he thinks can garner support from Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat who has expressed concern about gambling-related crime.

“I think there is a way to deal with [Mr. Johnson],” said Mr. Steele, who has been lobbying lawmakers to support slots legislation. “I am going to try to float that idea to address [his] concern.”

For the past two years, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly has killed Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s plan to place 11,500 slot machines at four horse-racing tracks.

The Republican governor has proposed using as much as $700 million in annual revenue from slot licenses to fund an education initiative while simultaneously stimulating the state’s ailing horse-racing industry.

Gaming establishments in Delaware and West Virginia draw $309 million a year in revenue from Maryland gamblers. Pennsylvania recently enacted legislation to set up 61,000 slot machines around the state.

In other matters, Mr. Steele said there is a “60-40 percent” chance of a special legislative session on medical-malpractice insurance premiums this year.

“I think we will see some movement,” said Mr. Steele, a business lawyer who has had limited involvement in the governor’s malpractice-insurance reform effort.

Mr. Ehrlich has been working with the Democratic legislative leaders to craft a malpractice-insurance reform plan for a special General Assembly session before a 33 percent increase in premiums takes effect Dec. 31. Doctors have said the increase could force them out of business or out of the state.

Meanwhile, Mr. Steele has developed a national profile through his campaigning for the Republican Party and President Bush. He also delivered a prime-time speech during the GOP national convention.

Widely considered to be a likely successor to Mr. Ehrlich, Mr. Steele said he largely agreed with the governor’s comments in May on multiculturalism being “bunk,” but said he would have communicated it differently.

“While I understood what the governor was saying,” he said, “I did not necessarily agree with the way he said it, and I know his intent — as we talked about it later — was not to denigrate anyone’s experience here in this country, their cultural experience, or to say that their culture was less than, that was not what he was saying.

“What he was really speaking to, which I agree, is this idea that it is what defines you, and if we don’t agree with you, then there is a problem.”

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