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Lawmakers, Pastors Join Forces To Urge Rejection of Slots Bill

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page PG02

A group of preachers gathered in Prince George's County on Sunday to urge lawmakers in Annapolis to reject legislation that would bring slot machines to Maryland.

During a service at Greater Mount Nebo AME Church in Upper Marlboro, area ministers joined county lawmakers in saying that slot machines would hurt, not help, Prince George's.

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County Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), one of those in attendance, said he recalled when lawmakers in New Jersey promised that the quality of life in that state would get better if slots were brought to Atlantic City. The slot machines came, he said, but the slums are still there.

"This is not an economic issue that will help anybody," Dean sad.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has pushed for slots as a way to generate revenue for education and other state priorities. Two weeks ago, Maryland's House of Delegates approved a bill that would allow 9,500 video lottery terminals to operate in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Harford and Dorchester counties. The Senate passed its own bill to allow 15,500 machines at seven sites across Maryland, including at four horse tracks.

But now the legalization effort has stalled, with House leaders unwilling to negotiate further changes and the Senate unwilling to accept the House's scaled-down proposal.

At Sunday's service, Del. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George's) urged the pastors and churchgoers to let legislators know that they object to slot machines. Benson said that by pushing to bring gambling to Maryland, lawmakers are "asking us to bring one more cocaine into our community."

"You can't just talk about this issue," Benson said. "We need you in Annapolis."

The Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., pastor of the 10,000-member Ebenezer AME church in Fort Washington, told the attendees at Mount Nebo of a scene he witnessed on a trip to Biloxi, Miss. He recalled seeing a group of people getting off a tour bus in front of one of the casinos the Gulf Coast city is known for.

"You would have thought it was a hospital bus," Browning said. "There were senior citizens, persons with oxygen masks, people giving their last dollars to make ends meet," he said. "The bottom line is that the quality life will not change if slots come."

Remembering Selma

Forty years after hundreds of civil rights marchers were beaten by police wielding clubs as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) traveled to the bridge last weekend to commemorate what became known as "Bloody Sunday."

Hoyer was honorary co-chairman of a bipartisan congressional delegation that went to Alabama for the anniversary of the famous march, which took place on March 7, 1965.

The lawmakers visited Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, and participated in a reenactment of the march in Selma that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Hoyer said the trip was an important one for him to make as a way to recognize the contributions of African Americans.

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