Under O'Malley's proposal, a commission would award slots licenses at five locations - one each in Anne Arundel, Allegany, Cecil and Worcester counties and Baltimore City. The measure would allow slots at Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County and Ocean Downs in Worcester County, but not at Pimlico in Baltimore. The city is eyeing a slots parlor off Interstate 95 near Route 295.

Slots operators would get to keep 30 percent of gross revenues, while up to $140 million a year would be set aside for helping breeders, enhancing purses and making track improvements.

The governor campaigned last year on a pledge of "limited slots" at Maryland tracks.

"His preference was to focus at the tracks, but there was a history in several of the track areas of that being a non-starter in the General Assembly," Bryce said. "What we tried to do was take into consideration what we knew about sites from the past and put together a geographic and economic plan that made the best sense."

Legislators wanted to know why sites were chosen in areas that opposed them, how bidding for slots franchise licenses could be competitive when the bill singled out specific areas, and whether there was any wiggle room to allow tracks in Timonium or Prince George's counties, or at non-track locations in Frederick and Harford counties.

Bryce said nothing was "set in stone" and offered to negotiate on bill language that some said was directed too much at existing property holders, but he said he did not support taking the geographic boundaries for sites out of the bill.

The proposed slots site in Baltimore - an 11-acre warehouse district south of the city's sports stadiums - took Timonium and Harford County out of the running because of a desire for a limited number of areas, he said.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon spoke in favor of the proposed city site - a shift from her past position.

She said that her perspective on slot machines had changed as she came to understand the state's fiscal crisis and the opportunity for reducing property taxes in the city, one of her top priorities as mayor.

Several speakers expressed concern that state voters would decide what would happen in individual jurisdictions where officials might oppose slots, such as areas near Ocean City. Bryce said a referendum was the only way to get a slots measure passed.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com