Pimlico Race Course to give priority for jobs created by slots to its neighbors, De Francis says

Pimlico Race Course officials said last night that slot machines might be the only way to spur redevelopment in the surrounding neighborhoods as they announced a fair to begin interviews for as many as 1,500 jobs.

Joseph A. De Francis, an owner of the track, told about 100 people attending a community meeting at Pimlico Middle School that first preference for the jobs, ranging from maintenance and food service to accounting, would be given to residents of the communities surrounding the race course.

"What is going to improve this community? Job opportunities and money. I can't think of anything else," De Francis said. "Where is it going to come from if it doesn't come from this?"

Pimlico Race Course officials said the job fair is scheduled at the racetrack from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 15.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, who represents the district that includes Pimlico, was host of the meeting and was joined by Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

A chief concern on the minds of the crowd, one largely opposed to slots, was whether the arrival of slots would burden the neighborhood with more problems.

The lawmakers promised to support legislation only if it brings money back to the Pimlico community to address those concerns, which include increased traffic and crime. Lawmakers also said slots money could be used to redevelop the blighted Park Heights community south of the racetrack.

While slots have not been approved by lawmakers, Gladden and Rawlings spoke as if they would be and insisted to the crowd that they would ensure that slots revenue would return to the immediate Pimlico community.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has proposed allowing slots at four tracks - Pimlico, Laurel Park, Rosecroft and a track to be built in Allegany County - to increase state revenue and head off a projected budget shortfall of about $1.2 billion in the coming fiscal year. His proposal would return 3 percent of revenue to the racetracks' jurisdictions - meaning City Hall and county governments, not specifically to the communities near the racetracks.

"I know that if we don't craft something, we are going to be lost," said Gladden, who has introduced a bill that would return 5 percent of slots proceeds to communities adjacent to the racetracks.

Gladden's bill, as well as a version in the House, would require that a gambling benefits authority board be appointed to control spending of slot proceeds and allow the funds to be used only in an area within one mile of the track. Racetrack owners would have to seek board approval before starting any renovations to accommodate slots.

The 16-member board would consist of lawmakers, racetrack and slot machine industry officials, residents, area business owners and school officials. The governor would appoint all but two of the positions. The House and Senate leaders would each pick a legislator to serve.

Last month, Gladden proposed a bill that would offer more help to lower-income areas, such as Park Heights. The bill would allow all areas within a mile of Pimlico to receive money to address concerns about traffic, security and trash. But areas fitting the definition of "priority zone" would be allowed more money to use for redevelopment.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun