- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — A coalition of black ministers came to State House yesterday to voice their opposition to putting slot machines at horse tracks, though lawmakers have yet to submit any gambling legislation before the General Assembly this year.

“We feel that the church has a role to play,” said the Rev. Jonathan L. Weaver, pastor of Greater Mount Nebo AME Church in Bowie, who met with state lawmakers from Prince George’s County. “We want to make our voice heard.”

Bishop Larry Lee Thomas Sr., pastor of St. James Church of the Apostolic Faith in Glen Burnie, agreed.

“We are here to say ‘not in our state, not in our community,’” said Mr. Thomas, the president of the United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County.

The group, along with members of the Collective Banking Group of Prince George’s County and other ministers say they represent “thousands” of parishioners.

The ministers talked with lawmakers for more than an hour in a closed-door meeting and said they also discussed other issues important to the black community — health care, education and transportation.

Black ministers and lawmakers played key roles last year in the negotiations to pass slot machine legislation.

Some members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus said they would support slots only if the legislation guaranteed at least some black ownership of the venues.

John Foreman, a deacon at Brown’s Memorial Baptist Church in Baltimore, last year criticized efforts by the Legislative Black Caucus to help former pro athletes and other black entrepreneurs partake in the profits from slot-machine gambling.

“Get the drugs, unemployment and crime out of here. That is what is a priority in this area at this time,” said Mr. Foreman, whose church overlooks a blighted neighborhood and Pimlico Racetrack, one of venues considered for slot machines.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. accused his main opponent on slots, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, of “playing the race card” last year when he rallied ministers to aggressively lobby against the bill.

Mr. Busch, who has helped kill slots legislation the past two years in the House Ways and Means Committee, said he had no prior knowledge of yesterday’s meeting between the ministers and lawmakers.

He also said the argument that slots would bring additional $800 million a year in revenue to the state now lacks merit.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, has said he may submit his own slots legislation this session.

Mr. Miller was out of town yesterday and not available for comment about the meeting.

Mr. Ehrlich’s spokesman, Henry P. Fawell, did not return a call to comment.

Lawmakers have been critical of Mr. Ehrlich’s past slots proposal, which called for 11,500 slot machines at four Maryland horse tracks — Pimlico in Baltimore, Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County and a proposed track in Allegany County.

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