Shore county seeks casino referendum Dorchester leaders ask state task force to let residents vote; Cambridge would be site; Commissioners want boost for region's ailing economy


Searching for a boost to the sagging area economy, the five commissioners of Dorchester County, on the Eastern Shore, have asked the state's casino task force to allow local residents the chance to approve a river-front casino in Cambridge.

The request, which came in a two-page letter dated Wednesday, marks the first time the governing body of a Maryland county has given such strong support to casino gambling.

"We implore you, as part of your final recommendations to provide for one single-site gaming location on both the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland," reads the letter signed by commission President Glenn L. Bramble on behalf of the five commissioners.

"The economy of Dorchester County is, at best, a struggling one," the letter says. "We believe, however, that the benefits provided by an opportunity such as a single-site dockside gaming establishment far outweigh the negative impact."

A representative of Harveys Casino Resorts, a Nevada company that has developed plans for a casino in Cambridge, the county seat of Dorchester County, said yesterday that the commissioners' letter was a significant boost to the company's chances.

Mr. Bramble emphasized that the casino matter should be put to a vote of county residents.

"I am not saying that I am for it," Mr. Bramble said last night. "I [just] didn't want us to be excluded. If the people of this county want it, then I will do my best to make sure it is the best possible agreement."

Commissioners Stephen M. Willey and Jeffrey C. Powell said they had approved the letter. The other two commissioners, Effie M. Elzey and William V. Nichols, could not be reached for comment.

The nine-member state task force is expected to vote against bringing casino gambling to Maryland at its next meeting Monday.

Lobbyists are expected to continue pushing the issue when the General Assembly convenes in January. Both sides in the controversy have seemed to agree that any legislation proposed in Annapolis would give local communities the right to say yes or no to such projects as the one proposed in Dorchester County.

Harveys Casino Resorts has laid out plans for a casino on the Choptank River. Company officials say they would like to build a riverboat or dockside casino complex that would include a 200-slip marina, a 300-room hotel, a conference center and an outdoor concert area.

Touting the jobs such a project would create, the company has spent months trying to sell the idea to local residents. Harveys says it has secured options on two parcels of land along the river totaling about 7 acres. Last month, Harveys hired the Cambridge city attorney as a local adviser.

Gerard E. Evans, an Annapolis lobbyist representing Harveys, called the commissioners' letter "fantastic."

"It's the first and strongest indication of support for this effort in Maryland. It shows that our local grass-roots efforts are beginning to pay off."

Former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, the task force chairman, was out of town yesterday and unavailable for comment.

State Sen. Walter M. Baker, the task force vice chairman, said he thought the letter was the first of its kind from a group of local government officials. He added that he did not think it would have any impact on the commission's decision Monday.

The issue of legalizing casino gambling in Dorchester County is volatile. Local churches have aimed a letter-writing campaign at politicians opposing Las Vegas-style gambling.

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