- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Legislation on slot-machine gambling is dead — for now — in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, even though the House and the Senate have approved bills that would authorize slots for the first time in three years.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. yesterday said he “absolutely, positively, unequivocally” will not allow a floor vote on the House version of the slots bill, which House Speaker Michael E. Busch has said is the only one his chamber will consider.

“The bottom line is that the bill they sent over is a nonstarter,” said Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat. “It doesn’t work.”

Mr. Miller, who favors slots, said he does not feel the House bill would generate enough revenue and would put slot machines in the wrong areas.

“The way the money is divided makes no sense whatsoever,” he said. “This is a state bill. It’s a state issue, and instead of the money coming back to the state and the general funds, [Mr. Busch] has got it going to the counties, and the counties didn’t even vote for the bill.”

Mr. Busch yesterday reiterated his position that appointing a conference committee to resolve differences between the two bills is not necessary, saying he believes the House bill could pass in the Senate.

“I don’t know why we would have a conference committee,” said Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat. “The question is what are the issues here of substance that would dictate a change.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said it is too early to declare the slots legislation dead.

“There are degrees of life and death in Annapolis,” spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said. “A bill can seem dead halfway through a session and come to fruition in April, whatever. It’s just too early.”

On Friday, the House narrowly approved a slots bill, and Mr. Busch said the Senate and the governor would have to accept it or else have no slots legislation this year.

The House plan would authorize 9,500 slot machines in Anne Arundel, Frederick and Harford counties and Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County — down from the 15,500 machines at seven venues sought by the Senate and Mr. Ehrlich. It also calls for all slots revenue to be used for school construction.

The Senate’s version would designate $150 million from slots revenue to be spent on school construction each year for eight years. Mr. Ehrlich, who estimates that slots would generate up to $800 million a year in revenue, had earmarked $100 million for school construction.

Unless Mr. Busch relents, the future of slots legislation could be in danger and Democrats could suffer in next year’s elections, Mr. Miller said.

“The failure to adopt a meaningful slots bill by the House and Senate is a failure of leadership, and there will be consequences in 2006 and rightfully so,” the Senate president said.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that key Senate Democrats said the slots legislation will likely die because of Mr. Busch’s refusal to negotiate.

“The votes are there to pass a good bill,” Mr. Miller said. “I know that, the speaker knows that and the governor knows that. I am hoping people keep an open mind on the issue. It is a very important issue. We need to get this issue off the table and move forward.”

Mr. Busch has long opposed slots and helped kill the legislation in committee in the past two years.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, has sought to use slots to revive the state’s horse-racing industry and to fund a billion-dollar education initiative.

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