In Maryland, slots operators would pay a 67 percent tax rate - among the highest in the country. And the Baltimore operator must pay rent or share profits with the city, which would further squeeze the profit margin.

Jeffrey Hooke, an investment banker and gambling analyst, said such a "tax on top of a tax" could dampen enthusiasm among potential bidders for the gambling license.

"How much blood can you squeeze out of a stone?" he said. "They might be holding a party and nobody shows up."

Hooke said the city's projections for lease income are far-fetched. Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, a slots opponent, also raised concerns about revenue projections.

Aside from local developer David S. Cordish, no developers or gambling companies have publicly acknowledged interest in a potential Baltimore casino. Frank, who oversees economic development at City Hall, said he has not been approached and that city officials have "sent a very clear message" that they would not engage in talks with bidders until after the Nov. 4 vote.

Some officials have said that a more viable option for Baltimore would be a full-scale casino that would be more likely to draw tourists as opposed to local residents. Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Democrat whose district includes the proposed slots location, said that he has consistently opposed the legalization of slots but that a casino offering cards and other games would have been "more palatable."

Such a facility in a downtown hotel would "take money from people who don't happen to live here," Della said.

Pratt, who believes that a Baltimore slots casino would bring crime and blight, said the machines are "an easy game to play that appeals to a wide variety of people" while "high rollers usually do blackjack or craps." She contends that the city should focus on attracting industry and building affordable housing.

"Government should find other ways to fund itself," Pratt said. "And it should not be on the backs of people who can least afford it."

But unlike other potential slots locations in Maryland, the Baltimore site has not generated much protest from the local community - partly because there is not much of one there. The area was zoned for industrial use decades ago, and few homes remain.

Priscilla Sykes, who moved to a Ridgely Street rowhouse with her family in the early 1990s, said they picked the place partly because they liked the views of a great span of highway overpass. Sykes, who now lives with her 15-year-old son in a home surrounded mostly by warehouses, says they have been isolated from drug and gang activity found in more populated areas.

Slots, she said, would be a welcome neighbor.

"I don't think [slots] will change that much," she said. "Nobody is going to move here."

John Gilbert, manager of the Holiday Inn Express on Russell Street, says that a nearby slots parlor would be "super" and a boon for his business.

Even workers at the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, which would have to be moved if a slots casino is approved there, do not object. Jennifer Mead-Brause, the executive director, said she has talked with city officials about moving to a newer shelter and that the area could use some sprucing up.

"There's not a whole lot happening," she said. "It's just a lot of run-down buildings and vacant lots."

by the numbers
Baltimore's estimated share of slots revenues:
Rental of city land or profit-sharing income
$36 million $37 million $38 million
Local development grants from state taxes
NA$11.9 million $19.2 million
Pimlico-area grants from state taxes
$387,500 $9.1 million $12.5 million
by the numbers