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  • Glendening's anti-slots stance hasn't always been so sure.

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  •   Casino Interests Cut Political Giving

    Parris Glendening
    Parris Glendening (File Photo)
    By Scott Wilson
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, August 23, 1998; Page B01

    Proponents of slot machines and casino gambling in Maryland have essentially given up on the state's fall elections, concluding that a political climate hostile to their interests is unlikely to change any time soon.

    National casino companies have cut back on political giving this election year and are even dropping their Annapolis lobbyists. Meanwhile, members of the state's horse racing industry said that Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann's departure from the governor's race this month doomed any hopes they harbored for slots at Maryland racetracks.

    The retreat is reflected in campaign finance reports filed last week that show sparse political giving by national casino interests, their Annapolis lobbyists and a local horse racing industry that once had high hopes for legalized slots. Since then, Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has vowed to veto any bill that would expand gambling in Maryland. That promise -- and recent polls showing him ahead in his reelection bid -- have scared off most out-of-state interests and left a local lobby for slot machines without much hope.

    "Where's Maryland?" asked Alan Feldman, vice president for public affairs at Las Vegas-based Mirage Resorts. "It's not on the radar. As far as Maryland goes right now, who knows what's going on? The political winds seem volatile from the outside."

    Maryland's gambling lobby has been sharply divided because of different goals. Casino companies have spent thousands of dollars on lobbyists and political donations in the hope of bringing large-scale casino gambling to Maryland. But local members of the horse racing industry have fiercely opposed that position, arguing instead for legalized slot machines only at Maryland racetracks.

    But neither group has made much headway, and the political giving pattern suggests a sharp shift over this election cycle in the way each views the prospects for legalized gambling in Maryland. Companies such as Bally's Las Vegas, Horseshoe Gaming Inc. and Harvey's Casino Resort poured money into the campaign accounts of key state legislators three years ago, but those donations have slowed to a trickle today.

    Harvey's pulled up stakes this year after giving generously to legislative leaders and committee chairmen earlier in the election cycle, hoping that slots at racetracks would be the first crack in the opposition to casino gambling. During this year's session, the company ended its contract with Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans after deciding the effort was futile.

    "It was apparent that slots weren't happening at the tracks," Evans said. "And if they weren't happening there, they weren't happening. It doesn't look like at this point it makes much sense to pour much money into this issue."

    It wasn't always so. After taking office in 1995, Glendening appointed a commission to study whether casinos or slot machines should be legalized in Maryland, a state with a historic horse racing industry and booming state-sponsored lottery.

    Although the commission recommended against casinos and slot machines, Glendening did not rule out casino gambling until August 1996. By then, casinos and their Annapolis lobbyists had given $4,350 to House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), $4,000 to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County) and $4,000 to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), among other legislative leaders.

    By contrast, only two national casino companies appear on the campaign finance reports that those legislators filed last week, charting donations since November. One is Bally's at Ocean Downs, the subsidiary owner of a harness racing track near Ocean City, which gave Taylor $500. The other is Horseshoe, based in Memphis, which donated $600 to Taylor in December and has given $2,600 to the House speaker this election cycle.

    "I personally don't think we're ever going to see casinos," Taylor said. "I do think slot machines are probably somehow tied into the future of horse racing."

    While the casinos have struck out, the horse racing industry has been looking for a candidate who would keep out rival casinos and allow slots at the tracks. But when Rehrmann dropped out of the governor's race for lack of money, the industry lost the candidate most friendly to its position. Republican candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey has not ruled out slot machines at Maryland tracks, but her position has not attracted financial support so far from the racing industry.

    The industry has been divided for several years. On one side are horse breeders, farmers and other support workers who want the state to help a $1.2 billion industry. That segment has two political action committees, and they recently held a crab-feast fund-raiser to form a third called the Thoroughbred Horsemen's and Breeders PAC.

    But the existing PACs have given little since the early days of this election cycle. The Maryland Horse Breeders Association gave $1,200 to Bromwell in June but none to other committee chairmen or gubernatorial candidates this year. In all, the three PACs will have about $50,000 to put into the election, with a chunk of it likely to go to Glendening after he set aside an additional $10 million this year to boost the Preakness purse, hold special events and increase marketing.

    "I think as a general matter, you will see a lot of people who will support the governor," said Timothy T. Capps, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "The governor has been very supportive of us the last couple of years, and we are very supportive of that."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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