The Maryland Jockey Club held a job fair yesterday at Pimlico Race Course, looking for workers to fill between 5,000 and 7,000 positions that will be available only if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s slots bill is approved.
"I don't think it's a case of counting your chickens before they hatch," said Karin De Francis, the club's executive vice president and co-owner. "We simply wanted to be prepared to start filling positions in the event we do get the legislation."
But critics say the move was a calculated one to further the club's cause: bringing 3,500 slot machines to each of its two racetracks.
"I think that they should be ashamed of themselves. They're toying with people," said Aaron Meisner, a Mount Washington stockbroker who has been fighting the bill.
"They're using the residents of that neighborhood to make a political point," Meisner said. "These are people who are desperate for employment, and to effectively waste their time by drawing them to a so-called job fair when there are no jobs there, just gives them false hopes."
De Francis said the Jockey Club has stressed the uncertainty of the jobs to applicants at Pimlico in Baltimore, and will do so at a second fair Tuesday in Laurel.
"We have been very clear in anything we have said about this that the jobs that are dependent upon the slots legislation are just that - dependent upon the slots legislation," De Francis said.
The club, which owns Laurel Park racetrack and Pimlico, has proposed a $420 million reconstruction of the two tracks if slots are legalized in Maryland. De Francis said the work would create a need for 3,000 to 4,000 temporary construction positions, which would begin within weeks of the bill's passage.
Between the two tracks, the permanent workforce could increase by 2,000 to 3,000, De Francis said, with new jobs opening in all areas including marketing, security and accounting. Pimlico and Laurel Park employ about 500 workers each.
"The impact will be huge," said Brian Handleman, president of Maryland Turf Caterers, which provides food services for Pimlico and is hoping to add 300 jobs to its current 70-person job pool.
"There will be new dining rooms, new bars. ... It will be huge," Handleman said.
No rush of applicants
The tentative nature of the jobs may have kept some potential employees away, however.
About 50 people sat yesterday morning at long black tables filling out applications.
Donna and Stanley Robinson were there checking out possibilities.
Donna Robinson, who is unemployed, was looking into food service or billing work.
Her husband, Stanley, who was looking to supplement the income he earns working with juvenile offenders, applied for spots in security and valet service.
"I think it's a great idea," Donna Robinson said of the job fair. "A lot of people need employment and this could help."
This was the Robinsons' first trip to Pimlico, even though they have lived a block away for 25 years.
The proximity concerns Stanley Robinson somewhat.
"I wonder how this would affect my home," he said. "I don't know how much expansion it would be or how it would affect the neighborhood."
Michael Freeman, who lives four blocks from the track, said he expects slots to improve the community if given the chance.
"It would hopefully bring more police and security to the area," he said. "It might help."
But opponents say the gambling machines will likely hurt the community, not help it, by increasing crime, addiction, traffic and drunken driving.
"Revitalization didn't happen in Atlantic City. The community used to be a slum by the sea, and now it's a slum by the sea with casinos," said Barbara Knickelbein, the co-chairwoman for NOcasiNO-Maryland, a group opposed to approving slot machines.
Event organizers said the fair, which drew about 1,000 applicants in five hours, was useful even if slots don't arrive soon.
It gave them a chance to meet with members of the community, they said, and collect the names of potential workers for current open positions and special events, including the Preakness.
They also said they are confident slot machines will return to Maryland.
"If it doesn't pass right now," Handleman said. "it will eventually."