- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Comptroller William Donald Schaefer yesterday said the General Assembly leaders need to act on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s plan to legalize slot machine gambling because time is running out.

“I think they should find a way to compromise or something,” Mr. Schaefer told The Washington Times after yesterday’s Board of Public Works meeting.

Meanwhile, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he does not expect that a proposed 50-acre waterfront gambling resort in Wilmington, Del., will have an effect on the slots debate here.

“The issue is expanding gambling at the racetracks and in the form of video lottery terminals,” said Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat and slots supporter.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a longtime slots opponent, also said the proposed Wilmington casino will have little effect on state policy in the waning days of the legislature.

“It means it gives people an opportunity to go play slots in Delaware,” the Anne Arundel County Democrat said. “And that when they say they will just be in one area, they will always want more.”

The Wilmington News Journal has reported that a group of Delaware developers has proposed building a $300 million casino resort on Wilmington’s Seventh Street Peninsula along the Christina River. The site would include up to 4,000 slot machines in several themed settings, a 400-room hotel, a dinner theater, restaurants, shops and a public marina.

The resort could be built only if legislation is passed to expand gambling at venues not linked to a racetrack. Delaware’s 1994 law that legalized slot machines restricted them to sites related to the horse-racing industry.

Delaware, Rhode Island and West Virginia also 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.

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

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, has proposed legalizing slots to revive the state’s horse-racing industry and fund education initiatives. But the Democrat-controlled House and Senate have reached an impasse in negotiating a compromise on the legislation.

The session adjourns April 11.

Just hours after a witness in a murder trial was shot in a Baltimore alley, State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy was in Annapolis yesterday seeking support for legislation that would try to curtail intimidation of witnesses in criminal cases.

Miss Jessamy appeared with Mr. Ehrlich at a press conference and then met with Mr. Busch to appeal to him to make sure the governor’s bill gets a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

The chairman of the committee, Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat and a defense lawyer, has not allowed a vote on the bill even though it was introduced early in the session and committees were supposed to have completed action on House bills.

“There’s still two weeks left in the session,” Mr. Busch said after his meeting with Miss Jessamy. “I want to sit down with Joe and talk about the specifics behind the legislation.”

“I think in the final analysis, we’ll come to some sort of understanding,” the speaker said.

But Mr. Busch would not say whether that understanding will include a so-called “hearsay” exception that would allow statements made by witnesses to be used in court even if they are killed or refuse to testify because they fear retaliation.

A former aide to state Sen. Richard F. Colburn said he has asked the legislature’s ethics committee to investigate his charges that he was required to write college papers for the Republican senator from the Eastern Shore as part of his job as a legislative aide.

Gregory Dukes, who resigned from Mr. Colburn’s staff in December, said he also was asked to perform personal tasks for Mr. Colburn, including waiting at his home for repair workers and arranging the sale of Baltimore Orioles baseball tickets.

In a letter to the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, which Mr. Dukes made available to the Baltimore Sun Tuesday, he said he thinks that what Mr. Colburn did constituted “an illegal use of taxpayer funds in the use of his paid legislative staff for nonofficial duties.”

Mr. Colburn withdrew from classes at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore this year after Mr. Dukes wrote to university officials that he had written five papers for the senator for two sociology courses.

Mr. Colburn has denied the charges made by Mr. Dukes, describing him as a disgruntled former employee.

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

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