- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

BALTIMORE — Democratic lawmakers here yesterday criticized Mayor Martin O’Malley’s support for legalizing slot-machine gambling — the centerpiece of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s legislative agenda.

?It’s just a flip-flop because immediately [Mr. OMalley] was opposed to slots,? said Delegate Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who voted against slots this year. ?Now, all the sudden, he is a strong advocate. It’s weird. I would guess it is his desire to be governor that is driving his support of slots.?

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, has pushed for slots to increase public school funding and help Maryland’s horse-racing industry compete with neighboring states that have slots at race tracks. His legislation has died in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for the past three years.

Mr. O’Malley, a likely Democratic challenger to Mr. Ehrlich next year, said this week that a compromise must be reached on slots to save racing and keep the Preakness — the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown — in Maryland.

?I disagree with him,? said Delegate Samuel I. ?Sandy? Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat whose district includes the Pimlico race track and voted against a slots bill this year. ?[Slots] is a bad way to raise revenue. It is a regressive way to raise revenue.?

Delegate Curtis S. Anderson also differed with Mr. O’Malley.

?It seems the mayor is buying into this idea that the only thing that can save the racing industry is slots, and that’s not true,? the Baltimore Democrat said. ?There are better ways to help save the racing industry….We don’t want to doom the rest of the state to slots forever.?

However, Delegate Clarence Davis, one of the few Baltimore Democrats who has supported slots legislation, welcomed the mayor’s ?enlightened? remarks.

?I think [Mr. OMalley] is dealing with the real world,? he said. ?The position that he’s taking is an enlightened view of the economic realities of our region.?

Mr. Davis added that Mr. O’Malley, if elected governor, likely would encounter less opposition to his slots proposal in the General Assembly than Mr. Ehrlich has. ?My guess is that most Democrats were simply making it difficult for the [Republican] governor.?

Mr. O’Malley has voiced consistent — though often weak — support for a limited number of slot machines at horse-racing tracks. As recently as February, he denounced slots as a ?morally bankrupt? way to fund public education.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who also is considering a Democratic challenge to Mr. Ehrlich, has objected to legislation that would legalize slots.

Yesterday, O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the mayor’s position is getting more attention now because of ominous news in the state’s racing industry.

Magna Entertainment Corp., the Ontario-based company that owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, recently announced it would cease investing in the tracks until slots are approved.

However, the company just completed significant cosmetic improvements to Pimlico and has spent millions of dollars refurbishing the Laurel track.

Magna Entertainment reported this week a first-quarter loss of $4.1 million. The corporation’s 13 racetracks in the United States, Canada and Europe lost a total of $200 million over the past three years.

Last year, Pimlico had a net profit of $137,575, some $530,000 less than the previous year. Laurel Park lost more than $3.7 million, according to financial documents released Thursday by the Maryland Racing Commission.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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