Old fort just right for slots -- or birds

The Baltimore Sun

There's always somebody who's opposed to something, no matter what, so I know, even as I write this, that putting a casino on Fort Carroll might be the only politically safe thing to do - if Baltimoreans must have a casino - but it will be opposed by bird lovers. If it isn't ministers, rabbis and city politicians who oppose slot machines, it's people who get their jollies counting black-crowned night herons.

You see what I'm saying?


Sit tight. You will in a minute.

(Before I go on, a disclaimer: I have declared in this space that I no longer care what happens with slots in Maryland, but I don't really mean that. I'm just sick of the issue. I hate the whole idea that all we can think of doing, when government and business get together to try and build commerce, expand economies and increase tax revenue, is offer more opportunities for people to gamble. I won't oppose a limited number of slot machines, owned by the state, at racetracks, with a portion of the proceeds going to Maryland's thoroughbred racing industry. But I am not looking forward to a 2008 referendum on whether we should legalize slots and another year of debate and special-interest lobbying. State lawmakers ought to just make a decision, once and for all, take the heat and spare us more slots talk.)

Meanwhile, there's this issue of slots in Baltimore. Where should they go? How many?

The mayor is opposed to slots at Pimlico.

Makes no sense.

Mature adults have been gambling on horses at Pimlico for decades. Horses or slots - what difference does it make? If more people go to Pimlico because we put a few thousand slot machines there, what's the beef?

More activity? An actual year-round business? More traffic? More degenerate behavior in Park Heights?

OK, but that could happen with horse betting, no?

If, for some wild reason - or a good marketing strategy - twice as many people suddenly started going to Pimlico again to bet the horses, would the mayor be opposed to it? Wouldn't additional betting on horses mean more traffic and potentially more degenerate behavior?

Would we want to close the place down because it was suddenly again a popular gambling destination?

(If we don't watch out, we're going to lose Pimlico and the Preakness. The current ownership won't make any long-term commitments. The slots proposal presented by the governor the other day did not include Pimlico as a location, and all that seemed to get us was heightened drama about the future of Baltimore's historic racetrack.)

The other scheme we're seeing now - custom-fit for O'Malley's slots proposal - is for a gambling location along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway-Russell Street corridor, south of the stadiums in a stretch of old industry and warehouses where the city owns a chunk of land. This was described in The Sun yesterday as a "slots facility," but I'm going to just call it a casino.

Now we've gone from talking about a limited number of slots at Pimlico, already a gambling center, to creating a casino on the south side of town, away from residential areas, but not altogether so. I guarantee someone will oppose slots there, too. (I do, on the grounds that it constitutes a casino, and it's near an entrance to the city and will tart up the landscape.)

So, no matter where you turn in Baltimore, there's bound to be controversy and opposition.

And that's why I am again floating the idea of a casino on long-abandoned Fort Carroll.

It's not near anything but water and the Key Bridge.

And it's not even in the city. It's in Baltimore County. It's seven miles from the Inner Harbor. We can have ferries take customers out there from the harbor, or just about anywhere. A smart developer could build marina and wharf space on all sides of this distinctive man-made island. There would be one big casino, a few thousand slot machines, a restaurant or two. That's it.

Said and done.

On the rims and out the door.

Except for the herons. Did I mention that Fort Carroll has become a great nesting site for herons and egrets? You can bet cash money that ornithologists and other bird huggers will step forward to oppose my idea on the grounds that Fort Carroll is now the domain of birds and we should leave it alone.

But my plan includes designating a stretch of Baltimore County shoreline as a refuge for herons and egrets so that the birds can, in time, create a colony there.

It's worth the expense and the effort. Fort Carroll would make an exciting location for a casino.

It's not in Park Heights.

It's not near the stadiums.

It has waterfront on all six sides.

It's named after a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and I'm sure Charles Carroll of Carrollton supported state-sponsored gambling as a way of expanding commerce and advancing society. Somebody look that up.


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