Maryland Senate leader want to expand slots to Prince George's

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010

The president of the Maryland Senate said Thursday that he would like to expand the state's fledgling slots program to include a venue in Prince George's County, a prospect that generated no immediate support from other state leaders.

Most state lawmakers from Prince George's have long opposed putting a slots venue in the county, and some have fought the idea vigorously. But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) suggested that the tide of opinion could turn as Maryland struggles to get its potentially lucrative slot-machine gambling program up and running.

"We need to look at whether we need any other locations," Miller, whose Senate district includes part of Prince George's, told reporters. "I've got an interest in Prince George's County, frankly."

Maryland voters authorized slots sites in five jurisdictions in 2008, and adding or changing a location would require another ballot measure. Miller said he had no single location in mind but ticked off several possibilities, including Rosecroft Raceway.

The owner of Rosecroft, an ailing harness-racing track in Fort Washington, has expressed interest in bringing high-stakes card games to the venue, which Miller said is another possibility.

"We're looking at all viable options," Miller said.

In an interview, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) expressed no enthusiasm for revisiting the issue of slots locations, which were included in legislation passed during a hard-fought special legislative session in 2007.

"Of course, I have a great deal of respect for President Miller and will listen respectfully to any and all ideas he advances," O'Malley said, "but I think this issue was pretty fully debated, and the Prince George's delegation was pretty insistent, as were many of their community leaders in the county, that there not be a slots location in Prince George's."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said Thursday was the first time he had heard about Miller's idea and suggested it is premature. "We don't have a single slots facility up and running right now," Busch said.

Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George's), chairwoman of the county's House delegation, said that "at last check, there wasn't an appetite for slots in Prince George's." She said the prospect of legalizing card games, which would also probably require voter approval, is "a conversation that I'm sure will be had."

Gerard Evans, a recently hired lobbyist for Rosecroft, said the track recognizes it needs the support of the local delegation for any proposal. But, he said, "we need some form of alternative gaming at Rosecroft to keep it alive."

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