Gambling Firms Still Big Players
By Daniel LeDuc
The gaming and horse-racing industry continues to spend considerable money to push expansion of gambling in Maryland, despite Gov. Parris N. Glendening's firm opposition to slot machines and casinos.
Looking ahead to a major legislative battle over gambling next year, leading national casino corporations and various segments of the state's horse-racing industry -- which wants to add slot machines at racetracks -- spent more than $550,000 over the last six months to keep Annapolis's top lobbyists on retainer, according to lobbying reports filed this week with the State Ethics Commission in Towson.
Such sums made gambling interests, along with health care and tobacco companies, the leading corporate presences in Annapolis during the recent General Assembly session, the reports showed.
The gambling lobbyists and their clients hope that the governor will have a change of heart or that an opponent who favors slot machines will knock off Glendening (D) in this year's election.
"All the stars are in alignment on this issue," said Gerard E. Evans, a lobbyist paid $20,000 over the last six months by Harvey's Casino Resort.
While Evans supports Glendening in this year's election, he said, "I'm hopeful he'll take a fresh look at it once he's reelected."
Glendening has declared his opposition to the expansion of gambling with the mantra, "No Slots, No Casinos, No Exceptions."
Yesterday, his spokesman, Ray Feldmann, said: "The governor is not going to give this a fresh look. His opposition is not going to change. These reports are another example of the fight we're up against."
The money spent by the gambling interests over the last six months is about on track with what it spent for the year that ended in November. During that time, casino companies and the horse-racing industry spent slightly more than $1 million, according to the ethics commission.
Gambling did not become much of an issue during the last legislative session. One proposal by Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), the Appropriations Committee chairman, would have set a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to allow slot machines at racetracks and several other locations. The legislation died in committee.
"It's the most expensive, futile effort probably in Maryland history," said Bernie Horn, executive director of NocasiNO, a grass-roots organization fighting gambling in Maryland. "It's amazing that those companies think it's worth the effort."
Despite the lack of recent legislative activity, casino companies that include Ameristar Casinos, Harvey's, Casino America and Horseshoe Gaming kept key lobbyists such as Evans, Joseph Schwartz 3d, Gary Alexander and William Pitcher on retainer. Although not household names, they are the heavyweights of Annapolis's lobbying community. Schwartz received $71,500 from Casino America, and Pitcher took in $60,000 from Ameristar for what amounts to part-time work.
With Delaware and West Virginia allowing slot machines, gamblers from Maryland are spending money out of state that could stay here, said Alexander, who was paid $60,300 by Horseshoe Gaming during the last six months. "It has to continue to be an issue in Maryland because of what's happening in surrounding states," he said.
The money spent by the gambling interests in the long run may seem to be a pittance, Evans said. Slot machines are so lucrative that $1 million a year for lobbying is a small investment. "Do the math," he said. "That's a couple of days' take."
Glendening's main opponents in the Democratic primary are Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and former Redskins player Ray Schoenke. Rehrmann has called for allowing slot machines at the state's three main racetracks. Schoenke has said he supports state-owned slots at racetracks, with the money to go for education.
On the Republican side, former House minority leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the leading contender for the nomination, has said she opposes gambling but that there should be a study of ways to help the horse-racing industry. Although she is skeptical that slot machines are the answer, Sauerbrey said, she has left the option open. Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, another GOP gubernatorial candidate, has said he strongly opposes an expansion of gambling.
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