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Owens pushes for more slots funding

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens began a push yesterday to increase the amount of money her county would receive if slot machines were installed at Laurel Park under legislation pending before the General Assembly.

"I want my fair share of the local impact fees," Owens said.

In a memo released yesterday to the county's House delegation, Owens requested that the three horse tracks each slated to get 3,500 slot machines receive an equal amount of local assistance money -- $24.1 million annually each.

Based on that figure, Anne Arundel County would receive $17.69 million. The remaining money for Laurel Park would be split among the other jurisdictions near the horse track. The city of Laurel would get $2.41 million and Howard County would get $4.02 million, according to the county memo.

Under the bill passed during the weekend by the Senate, Anne Arundel would receive far less -- $10.67 million, the memo states. That bill calls for the area around Laurel to receive less money than the areas around Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County.

Owens said she has been given assurances by Senate leaders and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s aides that $7 million for Anne Arundel will be added to the Senate bill. Those assurances are nice, she said, but she wants to make sure the House of Delegates puts them in writing in its bill.

"Assurances aren't good enough," Owens said.

Ehrlich has proposed installing slot machines at the three area tracks and a yet-to-be-built facility in Western Maryland as a way of closing a more than $1.2 billion budget gap for next fiscal year. The proposal has been hotly debated, and so has the percentage of the profits that everyone involved would receive.

"I'd rather it come to my county than to enrich a few individuals," Owens said, referring to the horse track owners.

Several weeks ago, Anne Arundel officials submitted to the state an estimate that the placement of slots in Laurel would require $6.85 million for the first year and $6 million each year thereafter. The money would be used for additional public safety workers, bus system improvements and roadwork.

Even though the amount allotted in the Senate bill would appear to cover those costs, Owens said she wants to make sure that the Laurel area doesn't get less money than the areas around the other tracks.

It remains unclear, Owens and other leaders have said, whether the House of Delegates will approve the slots proposal. Speaker Michael E. Busch of Anne Arundel County is a staunch slots opponent.

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