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ANTI-SLOTS RALLIES

'Devil Is at the Door' and Gaining Strength, Franchot Tells Crowd

Hundreds of Marylanders attend an anti-slots rally at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro, one of four held yesterday. (Photos By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2007

Opponents of a plan to legalize slot machines in Maryland held four rallies across the state yesterday, saying that approving the proposal would enrich gambling interests while serving as a morally corrupting tax on the poor that would not resolve a $1.7 billion state budget shortfall.

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The rallies in Upper Marlboro, Frederick, Ocean City and Western Maryland, organized by Stop Slots Maryland, are the first attempts to mobilize public opinion before the special General Assembly session starts Oct. 29. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he hopes to move toward a resolution of the long-running issue during the session.

About 300 politicians, members of the clergy, parishioners and other residents attended the rally in Upper Marlboro. They gathered close to the stage in First Baptist Church of Glenarden's cavernous sanctuary, some wearing bright yellow "Stop Slots Maryland" T-shirts and carrying signs with the same message.

Several speakers, including state Comptroller Peter Franchot, condemned slot machines as a "pernicious idea" and told those in the crowd that their help would be needed to repel the proposal once more. Franchot (D), in particular, sounded an alarm, saying that the proposal has a measure of bipartisan support never enjoyed in the past.

"The devil is at the door," Franchot said. "I don't think, frankly, we've ever been weaker. I don't think the other side has ever been stronger."

Franchot observed that while he was speaking, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) was a guest on the WBAL (1090 AM) radio show hosted by Kendel and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the former Republican governor of Maryland who, along with Miller, is a longtime supporter of legalizing slots.

In the interview, Miller reiterated his support for slots, pointing to statistics that Marylanders spend $500 million to $600 million gambling outside the state.

"If we had slots earlier, maybe we wouldn't have had this deficit," Miller said.

Later in the day, Franchot responded that Miller's appearance and comments on the show were merely boosting the former governor's credibility for a possible rematch against O'Malley.

"No one in the Democratic Party, especially those in leadership positions," he said, "should help Bob Ehrlich and his mean-spirited, right-wing politics."

At the Upper Marlboro rally, slots opponents said there are other ways to resolve the budget shortfall, including investments in science and technology. They also suggested that the potential losses from dealing with such problems as gambling addiction would limit slots' financial benefit to the state.

But the major reason for opposing slots, at least in the house of worship, remained the immoral taint of gambling.


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