Victory for Slots Settles Long-Standing Question

Tim Mical, an anti-slots campaigner, makes a last-minute appeal to voters at Brock Bridge Elementary School in Anne Arundel County.
Tim Mical, an anti-slots campaigner, makes a last-minute appeal to voters at Brock Bridge Elementary School in Anne Arundel County. (Mark Gail - The Washington Post)
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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Maryland voters gave their blessing yesterday to slot machine gambling, breaking a perennial stalemate in Annapolis with big implications for the state budget.

Voters were favoring approval of the ballot measure by nearly a 3-to-2 ratio, with two-thirds of precincts reporting as of midnight.

The plan, backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), would allow up to 15,000 machines at five locations. O'Malley and other boosters cast the proposal as a means to balance the budget, protect education funding and aid Maryland's ailing horse racing industry.

Opponents pointed to addiction and other social ills that could accompany expanded gambling, and they questioned estimates that slots could eventually yield $660 million a year for education.

During a campaign in which slots advocates greatly outspent opponents, the arguments echoed those of recent years, when the previous governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), and the General Assembly seemed paralyzed by the issue.

Voters also approved a lower-profile constitutional amendment, known as Question 1, that would authorize the legislature to establish early voting starting with the 2010 elections. Voters were supporting that measure overwhelmingly.

Partial returns showed support for slots at its lowest level in Montgomery County. But even there, a majority appeared likely to vote for approval. In Prince George's, the measure was leading by about the same margin as statewide.

Exit polling showed the measure winning statewide among men and women, black and white voters, and voters of all income levels.

"I think most of us had made up our minds on this long ago," O'Malley said in an interview after passage of the measure became clear. "Tonight we now know these revenues will eventually be part of the mix of revenues that we use to invest in very important things."

Aaron Meisner, chairman of Stop Slots Maryland, one of the groups fighting the ballot proposal, attributed the outcome partly to an economic climate "well beyond our control."

"When you promise all this free money for the harvesting, it's sort of irresistible to a lot of voters," he said.

Passage of Question 2, the constitutional amendment authorizing slots, was expected to set off a flurry of activity, with the goal of constructing and opening slots parlors by 2011 in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties and the city of Baltimore. Two of the venues could be at existing horse racing tracks, but none of the locations is guaranteed.

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