One day after a state task force resoundingly opposed casinos, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he would support bringing slot machines to Maryland's thoroughbred race tracks.
"If a bill came to the [Senate] floor I'd vote for it," Mr. Miller, TC Prince George's Democrat, said yesterday. He is the first political leader in Maryland to come out in favor of the idea, which is being floated by the racing industry.
Mr. Miller said he would support legalizing slots at Maryland's Laurel and Pimlico race courses to help them compete with Delaware Park, a Wilmington track that plans to begin operating 715 machines later this year.
"The competition is real," Mr. Miller said. "The issue is not promoting gambling but competing with our sister states in an industry that is as old as the state."
On Monday, a task force appointed by the governor and legislative leaders recommended against legalizing Las Vegas-style casinos, all but killing such proposals for next year. The task force was neutral, however, on the issue of allowing slot machines at the state's horse tracks.
Mr. Miller's support appears to give a boost to Joseph A. De Francis, the owner of Laurel and Pimlico, who says he is considering whether to ask the legislature for slots at his tracks.
While some key politicians have publicly opposed casinos, they have been less clear on the issue of slot machines, suggesting that legislation allowing them might have some chance in Annapolis. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has said he is against a casino in downtown Baltimore, but that he may be sympathetic to having slot machines at Pimlico.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, too, has indicated that he will oppose casinos. But he has said that he would be willing to consider slot machines for the race tracks if they lose business to Delaware.
Such a proposal, however, would face certain opposition among some legislators.
"I'm against, totally against," said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Republican who represents Howard and Montgomery counties and a leader of an anti-gambling group.
"My feeling is, there wouldn't be very much support for it," agreed House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican.
In the past, the General Assembly has given tax breaks and legalized Sunday racing, off-track betting and simulcast wagering to help the racing industry compete. Mr. Miller said he viewed slot machines as just another tool.
"I think the public will buy into that concept," Mr. Miller said.
Bally Entertainment, which manages Maryland's harness race courses, said yesterday that it is all but certain to ask the legislature to approve the slots.