Business owners, lawmakers oppose downtown casino Damage to city's image, loss of customers feared


A proposal by a Nevada gambling company to build a casino in Baltimore's Inner Harbor drew strong opposition yesterday from some city legislators and small business owners.

Members of both groups warned that a large gambling hall could damage the area's ambience, hurt the city's image and lure customers away from existing businesses.

"I think it's a mistake," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a city Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "I don't think that is what Baltimore stands for."

In Fells Point, just blocks from where the casino would be built, local business people also rejected the idea. "How do we compete against free food and free booze?" said Ron Furman, who owns Max's on Broadway, an area bar.

While no lawmaker interviewed yesterday embraced the gambling proposal, a few said Marylanders should not ignore the potential benefits a Baltimore casino could bring to the city and state.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he was reserving judgment until a state task force makes a recommendation later this year.

"I think if somebody [wants] to build a $250 million casino in Baltimore City, you need to look at it," he said.

Mr. Rawlings and the others were reacting to Monday's announcement that Primadonna Resorts would like to build a hotel-casino between Little Italy and Fells Point if the legislature approves casino gambling next year. Company officials say Primadonna is negotiating to secure development rights to the Inner Harbor East property, most of which is owned by John Paterakis Sr.

Primadonna, which owns three casinos on the Nevada-California border, says that it wants to build a casino with a 1,000-room hotel, an indoor-outdoor roller coaster and a 3,500-seat concert arena.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has publicly opposed casinos for the city, was delivering a speech in Oakland, Calif., yesterday. Aides said he could not be reached for comment.

Baltimore Del. Elijah E. Cummings was among those who expressed concern about the proposal. He said that he worries about organized crime and wonders whether casinos will create good-paying jobs. "I just don't think the way you build an economy is through gambling," Mr. Cummings said.

However, another city Democrat, Del. Tony Fulton, said legislators should consider gambling as a potential source of tax revenue at a time when federal cuts threaten funding for the poor.

"We're either going to cut programs for people in need or find new revenue sources," Mr. Fulton said. "We need to keep our options open."

Meanwhile, the president of the Greater Baltimore Committee hinted that his group might support casinos in a report expected out in December. "Based on some of our initial study findings, we have concluded that casino gaming may, under certain conditions, generate significant financial resources for the state, the region, and Baltimore City," said GBC president Donald P. Hutchinson.

But in District 46, where the casino would be located, three of the district's four state legislators -- Peter A. Hammen, Carolyn Krysiak and Cornell Dypski -- said that they oppose the idea.

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