- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Vegas, eat your heart out.

A group of Baltimore County delegates has proposed putting slot machines at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, as Maryland tries to salvage a lackluster response to its slots initiative.

“We’re looking to capture revenue from those folks who are, you know, sitting around waiting for their flights,” Delegate Eric M. Bromwell, Baltimore County Democrat, said Monday. “I want to raise revenue for the state, and this is a perfect way to do it.”

Mr. Bromwell said his bill would put 3,000 machines inside the airport terminal by 2011. Ten other delegates, all but one from Baltimore County, are sponsoring the bill.

The General Assembly passed legislation in 2007 to put as many as 15,000 slot machines at five locations, and voters approved the plan in a referendum in November. State officials had expected slots to generate roughly $600 million in annual revenue by 2012.

Voters will have to approve the latest bill as an amendment to the state’s constitution, which specifies the locations for slots.

“I wish I didn’t have to do it that way. Unfortunately, the way politics is in Annapolis, the only way to get a compromise done is through a referendum,” Mr. Bromwell said.

The proposed legislation follows a rocky start for bids to operate slot machines. Bidders asked for only 6,500 machines, less than half of what had been expected.

On Thursday, a state commission threw out two of the original six bids: one for parlors at Laurel Park racetrack, in Anne Arundel County, and the other for machines at Rocky Gap State Park, in Western Maryland. The rejected bids were deemed “incomplete” by the Maryland State Lottery Agency facilities-location commission because they did not include $33 million in upfront licensing fees.

Mr. Bromwell’s bill would adjust current law that forbids more than one parlor in one county.

A proposal for 4,750 machines at Arundel Mills Mall is already on the table for Anne Arundel County, where the airport is located. The bill also stipulates that potential applicants must include $3 million in licensing fees and $25 million in construction costs for every 500 machines they plan to install.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, disapproved of the proposal, saying that operators should stick to the sites put forward in the referendum.

(Corrected paragraph:) Shaun Adamec, O’Malley’s spokesman, said the state is not experiencing the kind of good economic conditions for selling slot licenses.

One gambling expert said slots at airports are a good idea, but he said Maryland is just not ready for another political clash over the slots issue.

“Its pretty imaginative, but I think the chances of this passing are close to zero,” said Jeffrey Hooke, a Bethesda-based gambling analyst. “The last thing the state needs is another high-pitched battle between the pro-slots folks and the anti-slots folks.”

Airport slot machines, most commonly associated with McCarran International Airport, in Las Vegas, has been catching on in several states as a means of increasing revenue. On Feb. 9, Minnesota state Sen. Charles W. Wiger introduced legislation to put slots at 3,200 establishments across the state, including in terminals at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Mr. Wiger, a member of the Democrat Farm Labor Party, said that the proposal would bring in roughly $1.1 billion in revenue statewide.

In other state news, Mr. O’Malley is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where his bill to replace capital punishment with life in prison without possibility of parole is scheduled to have a hearing.

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