- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — State lawmakers say they feel no extra pressure to resolve an impasse on slot-machine legislation even as neighboring states plan to pool their slots payouts to increase their jackpots and lure more gamblers to their casinos.

Delaware, Rhode Island and West Virginia are developing a program that would combine revenue from the states’ slot machines to form a large jackpot, similar to the Powerball lottery, which pools revenue from 30 states into a single jackpot.

“People like to have bigger payouts,” Richard S. Cordrey, Delaware’s secretary of finance, told the Associated Press. “We all know the larger the payout, the more play you get.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, dismissed the tri-state jackpot plan, saying, “It is just an example of the desperation that occurs when governments start to predicate their budgets on slots revenue.”

A staunch opponent of slots, Mr. Busch has said that there is no room for negotiation on a House slots bill that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has said he will not allow to be considered for a vote.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat and longtime slots supporter, said the Delaware-West Virginia-Rhode Island slots plan does not affect Maryland’s proposals.

“We have to authorize [slots] before we can begin talking about other states,” Mr. Miller said.

Shareese N. DeLeaver, spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the impasse rests on Mr. Busch.

“That’s the way it has been for three years,” Miss DeLeaver said. “And until the Maryland General Assembly learns what the legislatures of West Virginia and Delaware have learned years ago, they will continue to reap the benefits of Maryland’s indecision.”

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 across the state.

The Maryland House’s slots plan would authorize 9,500 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 as much as $800 million a year in fees and taxes for the state, had earmarked $100 million for school construction.

Senate Democrats have defeated 10 medical malpractice insurance reform measures proposed by Republicans that would have limited awards to injured patients, capped attorneys’ fees and barred doctors’ apologies from being used as evidence of liability.

The Senate’s only physician, Minority Whip Andrew Harris, said the defeats probably end the tort reform debate until after the next election.

Prospects for Republican legislation in the House are a bit brighter. Mr. Busch said he has appointed a work group to determine what legislation might win House approval.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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