EASTON -- Casino opponents turned out here yesterday to urge Maryland lawmakers to reject Las Vegas-style gaming halls in the state's first public hearing on the issue.
A largely anti-casino crowd of about 200 packed an auditorium, with many warning that casinos would severely damage life on the Eastern Shore, particularly in Ocean City.
Ocean City Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell recalled that when the resort town had illegal gambling in the 1940s, only a handful of families profited while others lost their livelihoods.
"I personally witnessed farmers lose $30,000 to the roll of the dice," Mr. Powell told members of a state casino task force. "It's a poor way to earn money for the state of Maryland."
Some local business people, though, rose in defense of casinos as an engine of economic development for a region that struggles to attract new industry.
One man in the shipbuilding business pointed out that casinos had already contributed to Maryland's economy.
Andy Brown, vice president of Custom Ship Interiors in Lusby, said his company had built 11 floating casinos for companies operating in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana and Mississippi. Of the resulting employment, Mr. Brown said: "It's easy to say you don't want it, if you don't need it."
Yesterday's hearing was the first of four scheduled in the state by a task force set up by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the legislature to gauge sentiment toward casinos and their potential impact on Maryland. Casino gambling has emerged as a major issue in the state in the past year and is expected to be a dominant one when the 1996 General Assembly session opens in January.
The push here is part of a national trend that has developed over the past eight years. As more states have turned toward casino revenues to supplement their budgets, gaming companies have looked toward new markets, particularly the mid-Atlantic states.
For companies interested in opening up shop in Maryland, though, yesterday's hearing was the political equivalent of an away game.
Casino lobbyists, many of whom sat quietly in the back taking notes, had expected strong opposition on the Eastern Shore.
About 60 people from Ocean City came on a pair of city transit buses carrying signs that read, "No casinos, no way" and "Ocean City says no gambling."