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City slots proposal gets mixed reception Some adamantly opposed; others are resigned to the idea


A reported agreement between the mayor and the governor to legalize slot machines in Maryland and provide $25 million a year in slot revenues for city schools received mixed reaction from 20 community leaders, ranging from adamant opposition to resignation that slots in the city are inevitable.

"We remain definitely opposed to slots and casinos," said the Rev. Arnold Howard, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and pastor of Enon Baptist Church in West Baltimore. "To attach the education issue to it doesn't make it any more palatable to us.

"We want the city to stand firm in its lawsuit against the state for equitable funding," he said, referring to the legal battle that Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke have been trying to settle through negotiations.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said he worries about social ramifications, including an increase in the number of people addicted to gambling as a result of legalizing slot machines. However, Bell said he wants to talk to city residents before taking a position.

"The mayor's intentions are laudable, and I sympathize with his desire to find new money for the school system, but I have mixed feelings about gambling," Bell said.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he remains adamantly opposed to casinos.

"No. 1, I'm not committed to casino gambling for anything," Rawlings said. "No. 2, there's going to be a need for very persuasive arguments for me to even consider it. Part of that argument needs to be that a minority business owner is going to be a beneficiary of this."

Rodney A. Orange Sr., president of the city chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called slot machines "an inevitability" that his board is unlikely to address.

Charles Forbes, a spokesman for the Baltimore Presbytery, the governing body of 72 Presbyterian churches in Central and Western Maryland, said the Presbytery would join other anti-slot groups to fight Schmoke's idea.

But several ministers said that while they do not condone gambling, they won't oppose the mayor's plan -- if a good portion of slot machine revenue is designated for city schools.

"I think if it's to come we should be controlling and careful of big casinos, and make sure that those moneys are definitely earmarked [for schools]," said the Rev. Marvis P. May, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in West Baltimore.

"If we can tap in, in a creative fashion, to those people from Virginia who pass through our state on their way elsewhere to gamble, then let that money fall in our state," May said. "Make sure vendors in Maryland get these contracts, and minorities -- blacks, Hispanics and women."

"I know the church community goes to Atlantic City," he said. "There are no empty buses going up to Atlantic City."

Betty Martin, a longtime West Baltimore community leader in the Edmondson Village area, said she was surprised that Schmoke would make such a proposal after receiving a lukewarm reception when he raised the issue a week ago at a community meeting at Coldstream Park Elementary School near Memorial Stadium.

"When he said 'slots,' you could just see the expressions [change] on the faces," Martin said. "I think it's sad when the schools have to depend on slot machine money. I don't care how much money they bring in here, if poor management is there, they don't need to give more money."

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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