Las Vegas casino king Steve Wynn waltzed into Annapolis last month and had no problem lining up face-to-face meetings with four of the General Assembly's top leaders to make his pitch for bringing more gambling to Maryland.
Wynn struck out, however, in his bid to gain an audience with perhaps the biggest proponent of bringing slot machine gambling to the Free State: Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Although Ehrlich campaigned hard on his promise to legalize slot machines at Maryland's horse-racing tracks, he also had to assuage voters' worries about the Free State turning into Sin City, with glittering casinos popping up in Baltimore's Inner Harbor or Prince George's County's proposed National Harbor waterfront.
Ehrlich's aides fretted that it might not look good for the governor-elect to sit down for a chat with a man famous for building an empire of gaming temples in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
"We are drafting a proposal that may or may not involve Mr. Wynn's companies," said Ehrlich spokesman Paul E. Schurick. "We felt it was inappropriate to meet with any people or companies involved in slot machine gambling."
Wynn did score meetings with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's and Calvert) and House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), both of whom support slots at the tracks; House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who opposes them, and Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Montgomery), whose committee will oversee slots legislation.
The gambling impresario told lawmakers he is interested in grabbing a slice of the slots business -- and perhaps more than that, should legislators cotton to the idea of gambling in other forms, or at sites other than racetracks.
So far, however, Ehrlich is refusing the latter temptation.
"He opposes casinos and will oppose any efforts to expand slot machines beyond racetracks," Schurick said.
Stepping Up Fundraising
Maryland's Democratic Party raised more money ($2 million) than the Republican Party ($1.4 million) during this election cycle, according to an analysis of the latest campaign finance reports filed with the state.
But Ehrlich, who raised more than Democratic opponent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, aims to change that. This weekend, the state Republican Party is expected to elect a new chairman handpicked by Ehrlich, Montgomery County businessman John Kane.
Kane's primary job will be to modernize and raise money for a party that for more than three decades has been in the minority.
"The Maryland Republican Party has never done a very good job at raising money -- it's been a minority party that many people, particularly at the state level, treated as irrelevant," Schurick said. "With a Republican governor and a very aggressive new party chairman, all that is going to change."
Republicans need a new chairman because the previous chief, Michael S. Steele, ran on Ehrlich's ticket and is the lieutenant governor-elect.
Where the money comes from is an important indicator of who will have the new governor's ear over the next four years. Although money from political action committees did not make up the bulk of either Ehrlich's or Townsend's campaign coffers, both candidates were the recipients of such special interest largess. Townsend raised $581,360 from PACs and Ehrlich $352,108.
The PACs that gave the maximum $6,000 to Ehrlich include:
* Standardbred PAC and Thoroughbred Breeders & Horsemen's PAC, groups that are supportive of Ehrlich's plan to put slot machines at the state's racetracks.
* The Home Builders Association of Maryland.
* Maryland Bankers.
* Republican Majority Fund.
* TOMPAC, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds' (R-N.Y.) congressional leadership PAC.
* Nationwide Insurance, one of the largest property and casualty insurance companies in the state.
* Verizon/Good Government Club-MD, a local telephone service provider with significant interests before the state's Public Service Commission and the General Assembly.
* Outback Steakhouse Inc., a national restaurant chain.
A PAC representing Maryland's doctors and another representing the state's psychologists gave the maximum to both Ehrlich and Townsend.
Staff writer Dan Keating contributed to this report.