- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The House is adamant about keeping slot machines out of Prince George’s County and Baltimore.

Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, yesterday said the House will not budge on the placement of slot machines in the state as laid out in a bill her committee approved Wednesday.

“We will not back off on the exemption for Prince George’s and Baltimore city…. We pledged that to those people,” said Miss Hixson, Montgomery County Democrat. “And we are very firm on the sites.”

For the first time in three years, the full House is debating a bill that would authorize 9,500 slot machines only in Anne Arundel, Frederick and Harford counties, and at Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County. The House is expected to vote on the bill today.

Closely watching the House debate is the Senate, which has passed a bill that would authorize 15,500 slot machines at seven sites that could include Baltimore and Prince George’s.

If the House and Senate remain firm on their positions, a conference committee to marry the two bills would be doomed to failure, should the House approve its slots legislation.

“We just ask that everybody keep an open mind and we will see where we go from here,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat and a longtime supporter of slots. “They have come farther than ever before. They have managed to defeat the bill two years in a row, and I think that it will be a fairly close vote tomorrow, quite frankly.”

Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris expressed some hope that the two legislative chambers could reconcile their differences.

“It depends on what the final bill looks like whether we can get the senators to vote for it,” said Mr. Harris, Baltimore County Republican.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, who first introduced legislation aimed at legalizing slot-machine gambling, believes there will be room for negotiation when the House bill is debated today.

“Clearly there are policy issues still to be developed, some to be compromised, some to be negotiated,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “This is not a perfect bill, nor do I pretend it is.”

The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday approved a slot-machine gambling bill, after having rejected such legislation in the past two years.

The House bill would set up 3,500 machines in Anne Arundel, 2,500 in Frederick and Harford counties, and 1,000 at Rocky Gap. In addition, all of the state’s slots-related revenue would be spent on school construction, under the House plan.

Mr. Ehrlich had called for 15,500 machines to be set up at four horse-racing tracks — including Pimlico in Baltimore and Rosecroft in Fort Washington — and three off-track sites.

The Senate last week altered Mr. Ehrlich’s plan to include a provision that would allow a commission appointed by the governor and legislative leaders to determine where to set up the machines, leaving open the placing of slots in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.

In addition, the Senate reduced the amount of profits that would be kept by owners of slots facilities from 39 percent to 36 percent, thereby increasing the state’s share of gambling revenue.

The gambling legislation aims to generate funds for education initiatives with revenue from slots licenses and profits. Mr. Ehrlich has predicted that the plan could generate as much as $800 million a year for schools and has earmarked $100 million of slots revenue for school construction.

The Senate version would require that $150 million from slots revenue be spent on public school construction each year for eight years.

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