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Bettors say they'd cast their lot with Pa. slots

Inside the air-conditioned clubhouse of Pimlico Race Course yesterday afternoon, Michael Cammarata stood among a crowd of mostly older men, all staring up at a sea of television sets showing simulcast horse races from across the country.

When Philadelphia Park's fifth race began with the typical "And they're off!" from an announcer, Cammarata shouted taunts at the televised images of horses he didn't like and pumped his fist in the air when More Influence, the horse he had bet on to win, crossed the finish line ahead of all others.

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It was almost as if he were there at the Pennsylvania track. And the 67-year-old Lutherville resident, a daily patron of Pimlico's simulcast races, says he might well be headed to Pennsylvania if that state installs slot machines at its racetracks, as lawmakers there cleared the way to do last week.

"Seems like Maryland will be the last state to get slots," he said. "I'll take my wife and go up to Pennsylvania. I'll go. My friends will go. My family will go."

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Some legislators here have said they fear that Pennsylvania's passage of a slots measure will give Marylanders like Cammarata yet another place to take their gambling money, further crippling the state's horse-racing industry.

But slots opponents, several of whom live in the neighborhoods surrounding the racetrack famous for the Preakness, said yesterday that those legislators are using the situation in Pennsylvania to rally support for gambling in Maryland when they should be re-examining whether the state -- in better financial shape than previously anticipated -- really needs that income.

Pennsylvania lawmakers on Thursday reached a tentative agreement to install thousands of slot machines at eight racetracks and four off-track locations. By law, 18 percent of the income from slot machines would be pumped into Pennsylvania's horse racing industry, increasing race purses.

A day later, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat who supports slot machine gambling in Maryland, said he would like to see the General Assembly convene a special session, perhaps as early as next month, to discuss slots legislation.

Many of the horse racing fans who had come out to Pimlico yesterday afternoon to watch hours of simulcast races said they had been following the news out of Pennsylvania. And most seemed to have the same reaction: They would happily take their wagering money to Pennsylvania if it meant they could also play slot machines. They also said they wished Maryland would pass a slots bills so that such business could stay in this state.

Penn National Race Course in Grantville, a 90-minute drive from Baltimore, is the nearest Pennsylvania track for most Maryland residents.

David Martz, a Towson resident who described himself as a frequent patron of Pimlico, said his reason for wanting slots at the Northwest Baltimore racetrack is simple.

"I'm a gambler," he said.

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A few blocks north of Pimlico, at a home displaying the blue campaign-style "Another Family Against Slots" sign, Aaron Meisner, the coordinating chairman of stopslotsmaryland.com, said legislators like Miller are "using Pennsylvania as an opportunity" to revive the issue in Maryland.

Meisner said Maryland may lose a "tiny sliver of the economy" to Pennsylvania if that state installs slot machines and this state chooses not to.

"But we'd be more competitive with Pennsylvania in terms of quality of life, economic and business development," he said.

If Pennsylvania legalizes slots, Maryland would be virtually surrounded by states that have slot machines. Delaware and West Virginia already have them.

That, Meisner said, would make the state more attractive to some business owners and could help the state's economy.

Many at Pimlico yesterday strongly disagreed. They said that, as they see it, slots in Maryland would mean that residents would stop taking their gambling money across state lines, which would only help the economy.

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"Look at how successful Las Vegas is," Cammarata said between races, a day simulcast program tucked under his right arm. "If they'd get slots here, we'd stay here. If they don't, we'll all go. It'll be all that money down the drain."


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