ELKTON - Reversing a vote taken last month, the Cecil County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 last night to oppose casino-style slots in their county.
The vote came after opponents of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s slots bill packed the commissioners' chamber insisting that big-time gambling not be permitted in the county.
Under a bill that has passed the state Senate and is awaiting action in the House of Delegates, Cecil, Baltimore City and Prince George's County are designated as potential sites for free-standing slots palaces. The bill, an amended version of the governor's proposal, also calls for slots at three racetracks in the state.
Commissioner Phyllis Kilby made a motion that notification be sent to the county's legislative delegation that the board did not want a slots facility in the county after Commissioner Mark H. Guns slipped her a note saying that he would change his earlier vote.
During a vote last month, the commissioners favored a casino in Perryville by a 3-2 margin. Kilby and Commissioner William C. Manlove voted in opposition to slots in the county.
About 120 county residents, including representatives of church and anti-gambling groups, filled the council chamber last night to express their opposition to gambling.
David Thompson of Elkton said he considered "some well-reasoned adjustment of taxes or fees as being far and away preferable to having a big-time slots casino placed in Cecil County." Thompson is a retired aerospace engineer.
Commissioners heard residents' concerns that slots would boost the crime rate, lead to more suicides and cause divorces and abuse of spouses and children, while draining the region of its economic vitality.
Thompson recalled pledges that Ehrlich has made not to put slots in a jurisdiction that does not want them. "How the governor concluded the people of Cecil County were open to having a casino is somewhat of a puzzle. In any event, we are here tonight as evidence that the governor was wrong," he said.
Thompson said that those attending the commissioners' meeting and many more "are adamantly opposed to the imposition of slots gambling casinos in our midst."
His comments prompted others in the audience to hold up signs reading: "Another Family Against Slots," "Stop Slots," and "No Slots in Cecil."
The Rev. Lawrence Jameson, pastor of Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Warwick, said slots would double the number of personal bankruptcies in the county and destroy lives.
"We don't want it, and we want you to know we don't want it," the Rev. Harold Phillips of Pleasant View Baptist Church in Port Deposit told the commissioners. "I'm begging our commissioners not to vote to bring this stuff here," he added.
Nelson K. Bolender, president of the Board of Commissioners, said he favors slots "because we will get between $8 million and $10 million. That's what they tell us. That can be used for land preservation. We could preserve a hell of a lot of farmland with that much money."