"What Ocean City needs is gambling. After Dec. 1 this place is dead, I mean dead," boomed Dominick DeAngelo, as he wedged his rotund body into one of the tiny booths at a local yogurt shop. His beer belly protruded almost to the edge of the table, and a moist stogie hung from his lips.
"Me, I'm retired, but you know, I like to go dancing and at night now everything closes up at 1 a.m. That's disgusting," said the 66-year-old retired baker from White Plains, N.Y.
DeAngelo, a year-round resident of Ocean City now, however, was clearly in the minority among tourists and area residents interviewed here yesterday on the question of legalizing gambling in Ocean City. The arrival of casino gambling in Altantic City, N.J., last weekend has again stirred discussion of doing the same thing in Ocean City.
But it seems the people at Ocean City are not jealous of their counterparts in New Jersey.
"All gambling would do is take away money from all these kids," said Larry O'Connor of Waldorf as he surveyed the crowd of windbreaker-and dungaree-clad youths passing along the downtown board-walk.
"You get a guy who takes his family here and he'll start gambling and the first thing you know the kids will start gambling and then the family will have to go home a day early 'cause there's no money left," added O'Connor who admits to enjoying casino gambling during past vacations in the Caribbean and South America.
"I think people should be allowed to do whatever they want," interjected O'Connor's mother-in-law, Martha (Bubbles) Gaither. "(My mother) almost lost her shirt in Nassau," said O'Connor's wife, Betty. "When we got home we had sore arms" from playing the slot machines.
The overwhelming feeling here is that Ocean City is a thriving community that doesn't need legalized gambling. It differs from Atlantic City, an aging resort town suffering from an advanced case of urban blight, were gambling represents an effort to inject new life into the community.
Ocean City has an ever-increasing population of tourists and year-round residents. And after the now-famous condominium glut of the early '70s, only about three buildings have unsold condominiums, according to City Council member Harold (Chip) Gordy.
The city's 1978 budget was $10 million and the city has never needed to float bonds for capital improvements since there has always been adequate cash reserve from tax collections to fund projects, Gordy said.
"This is a family-type place. People come here to enjoy the beach . . . it's been the kept that way for years," said Alfred T. Matthews as he sat on a bench near the ocean with this wife. Matthews, who said he has been coming to Ocean City since 1931, now owns an apartment house here.
The opposition of Marylanders to gambling seems ironic, for Maryland is a race tract state, a betting state with a thriving legal and illegal numbers game.
But Ocean City is also the queen of Maryland resorts and Marylanders seem to have a mystical commitment to it.
Yet, it is a fragile prosperity which many feel cannot afford to be dependent on the weather.
The tourist trade was threatened this season by the severe erosion of Ocean City beaches, ravanged by 28 northeast storms since last fall. The city has spent about $500,000 to push sand from the surf inland with bulldozers.
Still, in some areas, the beach is only a vestige of what it used to be. Whether everyone is going to find room on those beaches is yet to be tested since temperatures in the 50s and 60s this weekend discouraged bathers.
Although Gary Whittington, president of the Chamber of Commerce says he is opposed to gambling, some downtown merchants interviewed were receptive to the idea as a means of attracting more people and turning Ocean City into a year-round resort.
"Yeah, bring in the big-time gamblers and show girls," said Dennis Delaney, who operates a grocery store in Baltimore Avenue. "The hell with the families . . . I make more money off the other people."
Henry Wilson, who owns the Pipe Dream tobacco store on Baltimore Avenue, also thinks gambling would do well in Ocean City. "Just look at Atlantic City - imagine a half million people."
"Yeah, but then you'd bring in all the prostitutes and organized crime," said a teen-age boy who had entered the store.
"Aah, it's bad all over. Look at Baltimore," Wilson shot back at the youth, who was wearing a University of Maryland baseball cap.
Slot machines were once legal in Ocean City and other Maryland beaches. Most stores and restaurants had them.
"If there was underworld involvement, I didn't see it," said Al Berger, owner of Syl-Mar clothing store. In the 40s Berger called, "we had slot machines in the store, and when there were no customers we played it ourselves."