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When the governor loses, $5 is a lot


Gov. Parris N. Glendening enjoys a friendly poker game, likes to play the lottery and has even bet on jai alai, but casinos have never had much appeal.

During his dozen years as Prince George's County executive, Mr. Glendening never set foot in any of the dozens of charity casinos that have operated there, he said.

Fiscally conservative and knowing the odds, he said he has only visited a Las Vegas-style casino once since 1980, and that was this summer during a family vacation on a cruise ship.

"The reason they have those big casinos . . . is because the house always wins," said Mr. Glendening. "I'm not about gambling my money away."

In the past year, gaming companies including Harrah's Entertainment and Mirage Resorts have hired some of the state's highest-paid lobbyists to persuade the governor and lawmakers to legalize casinos during the 1996 legislative session.

Given his veto power, the governor will be a key to the success of any legislation. While Mr. Glendening says he will try to evaluate the issue on public policy grounds, he acknowledges his personal feelings influence his political views.

"My values and experiences probably put two strikes against . . . casinos," he said.

Those experiences include his impoverished upbringing in Florida, where he spent part of his early years living with his family in a three-room, wooden house on a dirt road.

His father worked two jobs, one at a gas station, the other delivering milk beginning at 2 a.m. Mr. Glendening said the family sometimes bought day-old bread and made a meal of stewed tomatoes.

"There were times I was in college that I didn't have the money to buy lunch," he said. "As a result, I just tend to be very fiscally cautious. My wife considers me just plain cheap."

Mr. Glendening says he enjoys playing cards as a social activity. During his first two terms as county executive, he played in a floating poker game that at various times included Wayne K. Curry, who succeeded Mr. Glendening as executive, and Joel D. Rozner, Mr. Glendening's former chief of staff, now an Annapolis lobbyist.

The group would toss a blanket over a table around 7 p.m. and play five-card stud, seven-card stud and draw poker over sandwiches and beer until 11 p.m. or so, said Ron Schiff, one of Mr. Glendening's neighbors in University Park.

The stakes suited Mr. Glendening's thriftiness. Ante was a quarter with a maximum of three raises. A $20 pot was considered large.

Mr. Schiff recalls the governor as a conservative player. Before betting, he would calculate his chances based on what cards his opponents had showing. He never bluffed, Mr. Schiff said.

The games dissolved several years ago because of lack of organization and the demands of Mr. Glendening's career. "I don't think we've had one since he got into the governor's race," Mr. Schiff said.

Mr. Glendening has maintained a subscription to the state lottery since it began in 1973, but says he has never won much. He first bought tickets because proceeds went to aid education in Prince George's, he said.

As governor, though, he has decided to let his subscription lapse. "If I won millions and millions of dollars, no one would ever believe it," he said.

During this summer's cruise, Mr. Glendening decided to try his ++ luck at the shipboard casino. Despite his $120,000-a-year salary as governor, he played it safe, limiting himself to 50-cent slots.

He said he bet $35 over two days, posting a net loss of $5.

"I went wild," he said. "For me, that's a lot of money."

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