Baltimore Sun

Draft seeks casino-track alliance on locating slots

Sensing a shift in the state's political landscape, a gambling-industry lobbyist is circulating proposed legislation that would permit three full-scale casinos in Maryland, along with thousands of slot machines at horse racing tracks.

The proposed legislation was crafted by Edward O. Wayson, an Annapolis lobbyist whose clients include Wynn Resorts, headed by Las Vegas-based casino tycoon Steve Wynn, and a Buffalo, N.Y.-based conglomerate that is seeking a majority ownership stake in Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County.

Wayson said neither client directed him to draft the legislative proposal, but that he had suggested the idea as a way to start building a consensus for a gambling bill in the next legislative session.

"We're looking for something that would work for everybody," Wayson said. "It's a proposal in the form of draft legislation."

A copy of the detailed 65-page proposal, obtained by The Sun, calls for full-scale, destination-resort-type casinos in Baltimore City, Prince George's County and Western Maryland. It does not identify specific sites within those jurisdictions.

The proposed legislation calls for up to nine gambling establishments in the state, including existing racetracks - which would eventually be allowed to operate not only slot machines but also games such as blackjack, craps and baccarat.

Initially, Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park and Rosecroft Downs would be permitted up to 3,000 slot machines each. Ocean Downs would be permitted 1,500. After two years, the tracks could apply to operate up to 50 table games if they added an "entertainment facility" to their operations with a full-service hotel.

The racetrack at the state fairgrounds in Timonium also would be allowed to have slots.

Other gambling licenses, permitting up to 3,500 slot machines and 250 table games, would be granted to "destination resort" developments that included 600-room hotels and convention facilities.

One of the full-scale casino licenses would go to Baltimore City and another to Prince George's County. The Rocky Gap resort in Allegany County would be allowed 1,750 slot machines and 50 table games.

Each business would pay a one-time franchise fee of $50,000 to $250,000, depending on the class of license, and would divert to the state each year 25 percent to 34 percent of gross gambling revenue.

Each also would contribute to local governments, racing purses, thoroughbred and standard-bred breeders funds, a program to assist problem gamblers and a fund to market and improve the Preakness.

Wayson's proposal is a significant step beyond a "slots-at-racetracks only" bill that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had proposed last year. And it is likely to face major political hurdles.

Ehrlich has said he favors a slot machine program for Maryland, centered on racetracks, but opposes full-scale casinos with table games.

Another key player, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, whose opposition to slots appears to be softening, said he doesn't think it is practical for legislators to start looking at introducing full-scale casino gambling.

"While it might be a great venue in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, I don't think the state of Maryland is quite ready for that yet," Busch said. "I think you make a quantum leap when you go into that area."

Busch said the state would be able to retain greater control if it just had slot machine gambling at racetracks or other sites.

Gerard E. Evans, a lobbyist for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen Association, said full casinos would be a tough sell politically.

"I think anything outside of the tracks is going to be very difficult," Evans said. "When you consider how hard it was to get a bill out of the Senate with just slots at the tracks, any further expansion, I think, is going to be dead on arrival."

In offering his proposal, Wayson said he is trying to head off a situation in which competing casino and racetrack industry interests lobby against one another on behalf of rival gambling bills.

Wayson said his gambling industry clients agreed that such infighting would be counterproductive.

Wayson said he sees his draft legislation as "a starting point for conversation" among various interests that want to expand gambling in Maryland.