It's not often that you see churches and bars on the same side of a political issue in Maryland, but the push for Las Vegas-style casino gambling is bringing them together.
Religious groups and tavern owners were among those represented yesterday as about 50 people met in Annapolis to begin organizing opposition to casinos in the state.
State Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Howard County Republican and one of the organizers, said the group will set up a steering committee and map out strategy in the next several weeks. Efforts are expected to include letter writing campaigns to legislators and creation of a speakers' bureau.
Yesterday's meeting was the first of its kind for casino opponents and notable for the number and array of interests it attracted.
Some, such as Martha Young of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, came because they oppose gambling on moral grounds.
Many others, though, were drawn by fears that casinos would damage their businesses. J. Thomas Eyre, vice president of Eyre Bus Service in Glenelg, runs buses to Atlantic City and sees casinos siphoning off his clientele.
John K. "Jack" Milani, president of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association, owns Monaghan's Pub in Woodlawn. He said bars can't compete with an industry that gives customers free drinks.
During the luncheon meeting, Marcia Harris, executive vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, announced that her group was donating $10,000 as seed mon
ey for the effort and whipped up the crowd with an inspirational speech.
"The out-of-state gambling interests are saying the deal is done," said Ms. Harris. "Watch out, boys, you're in for the fight of your life."
Competing with casinos in the legislative arena, though, will require a lot more than fiery rhetoric. Gaming corporations, including giants such as Harrah's Entertainment and Mirage Resorts, have hired some of the state's highest-paid lobbyists to push their case.
While yesterday's meeting was a first for casino opponents, casino executives and lobbyists have been meeting in Annapolis for months to plot strategy.
"Let's face it, the proponents have money and they have time," said political consultant Carol A. Arscott. "And for that reason, opponents have to get organized quickly."