Applicants betting on approval of slots plan


Some of those who gathered at Laurel Park yesterday support the governor's plan to put slot machines at horse racetracks. Some oppose the plan. Most don't have an opinion on the politically divisive issue.

But all of them wanted jobs.

"Am I for it?" asked applicant Chuck Bartz, 41, of Columbia. "If it gets me a job, yes. As a citizen of Maryland am I for it? No."

Bartz was one of several hundred people -- some dressed in high heels, others trudging around in sneakers with no socks -- who completed applications yesterday at the Maryland Jockey Club's job fair at Laurel Park. The Jockey Club, a subsidiary company of the group that owns Laurel and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, expected up to 1,000 people to attend the eight-hour event, said Vice President Tim Capps.

The jobs depend on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. winning approval for his plan to install slot machines at four racetracks to help close a more than $1.4 billion budget deficit for next year. If the much-debated plan is approved in the next couple of weeks, Laurel Park would get 3,500 machines.

Jockey Club officials say the proposal would create 3,000 to 4,000 temporary construction jobs between Laurel and Pimlico. It also would create 1,000 to 1,500 permanent jobs in food service and slot machine operations between the two tracks, they said. That would double the current work force at the tracks, Capps said.

On Saturday, the Jockey Club held a similar job fair at Pimlico.

Slots opponents have criticized the club, calling the job fairs premature and accusing the club of holding them for political benefit.

Capps said yesterday that if the legislation passes, the slot machines could be clinking as early as April 1 next year, so construction could start shortly after the legislative session ends next month.

"If we find out we can start working in April or May, we can't be sitting here interviewing people a couple months from now," Capps said.

He added, "As much as anything, it's been good community outreach."

Applicants parked on the gravel lots near the track's grandstand yesterday, walked past losing betting tickets discarded in the lot and into the Carriage Room. In rooms that until two years ago were the track's bet placing hub, they filled out five-page applications.

Then they chose from 73 jobs listed in an 11-page packet. The positions ranged from vice president of slot operations to surveillance officer.

Bartz, who said he was laid off in October as a security worker at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, was seeking "anything," he said.

Patricia Holland, 58, of Jessup was seeking part-time work as a hostess or a slot attendant.

"When you retire, you need something to do," she said. "You can't just sit there all the time."

Rebecca Reynolds, 34, works as an executive secretary for a fiber optics firm in Baltimore. The office is closing next month, and she would like a similar job at the track, she said.

"I just think," Reynolds said, "it would be more stimulating than sitting in an office with a bunch of engineers."

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