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Fairgoers weigh in on slots

On a sunny day free of the usual high August humidity, there was no shortage of opinions from folks at the Maryland State Fair yesterday about adding slot machines at the Timonium fairgrounds.

But everyone agreed on one thing: The presence of slots on the fairgrounds would change the annual fair's family atmosphere.

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And generally, more people on the midway spoke out against bringing slots to the fairgrounds year-round, while a handful of bettors at the racetrack strongly supported bringing the one-armed bandits to Baltimore County.

Gail Adams, a grandmother from Edgewater said playing the Maryland lottery and the occasional game of Keno -- both set up at booths inside the Maryland Exhibition Hall just off the Midway -- were plenty for her.

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"I don't think we need any more," she said. "There's enough gambling around here."

That debate is likely to dominate the Maryland General Assembly again when it convenes next year in Annapolis, especially in light of Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch's suggestion last week that putting year-round slots at the fairgrounds could be a vehicle for compromise with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the leading proponent of slots at racetracks in Maryland.

Maryland State Fair officials said the fair would be financially better off if year-round slots were installed, though the fair's president, Max Mosner, acknowledged last week that craft shows on the fairgrounds would probably have to go if slots were placed in Timonium.

The state-owned racetrack at the fair gives middle ground to key lawmakers, such as Busch, who have opposed slots because the state treasury wouldn't collect all revenue. Profits from slots at privately owned racetracks, such as Pimlico, would have to be shared.

A few people yesterday said they favored slots, no matter what.

Perched by the racetrack edge after losing $18, Phil Remson, 41, declared: "Absolutely, slots would be a great starting point. That's why I voted for Ehrlich in the first place."

An engineer who lives in Annapolis, Remson said he had high hopes for more gambling in Maryland. "At least slots are fun -- the lottery is so boring. I'd like to see gambling boats in the Chesapeake Bay."

Leaving the state

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Lindsay Devoe, 22, a mother of two from Essex, bet on a winning horse and won $50. She supports slots on the fairgrounds because, she said, "that way, we don't have to travel to play."

Devoe and several others mentioned Delaware and West Virginia as two frequent destinations for Marylanders who enjoy state-sponsored gambling.

However, Pat Nolan, 55, of Randallstown, emphatically opposed allowing slots on the fairgrounds -- or anywhere else in Maryland.

"I'm truly against it, I'm sorry," she said. "Where do you start? A lot of loitering, trash, drinking, drugs, whatever, goes with gambling. It brings a city down -- I don't see how it's improved Atlantic City."

One out-of-towner from New Jersey agreed.

Doug Perham, 36, a father of four daughters from Cherry Hill, N.J., said, "Slots would change the whole family atmosphere. You're bound to lose and ruin everything good about the fair."

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Perham and his family were staying with friends in Perry Hall.

Thinking of family

James Adams of York, Pa., working at a fair stand stocked with stuffed animals, said his problem with slots went beyond money. "It's not fair for the whole community. It's a rip-off of government," he said.

But, Bill Foster, 56, of Hampstead said, "I'd like to see slots here and in the racetracks. It's part of Maryland's heritage, and it's a shame to see it become a political battle."

On second thought, Foster said as he stood next to a ride on the midway, "I'd prefer to see slots at the racetrack, to be honest, since this is more of a family venue."

At the racetrack, an couple from Parkville said they went to Delaware to gamble. But, Mary Miller added, she would not be glad to see slots at the fairgrounds this time next year.

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"I'll tell you the truth. Slots would take away from the fair," she said. "Families enjoy it as it is."


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