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Senate President Wants Slots at BWI

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By Dylan Waugh
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009

ANNAPOLIS - Passengers at Maryland's main airport would be able to gamble while munching on crab cakes from Phillips Seafood Restaurant if it was up to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert.

BWI-Marshall is an "ideal" location for slots, Miller said following Tuesday's Senate session, touting the money that could be generated from out-of-state passengers.

"I think it's an excellent site," Miller said. "It's a way for Maryland to keep money in the state from outsiders."

Delegate Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, has introduced a bill allowing for up to 3,000 slot machines at BWI -- more than twice the roughly 1,300 machines installed at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport.

If approved by the legislature, the measure would require passage by statewide referendum because it seeks to amend the state constitution.

Miller downplayed a potential conflict between slots at BWI and the 4,750-machine parlor proposed by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. at nearby Arundel Mills Mall. That proposal is under consideration by the state slots commission.

"I think we can do both," he said.

Passengers often have hours to kill waiting for flights, Miller said, and slots would be a "wonderful opportunity for recreation, for enjoyment."

Plus, many passengers are from out of state, meaning the proceeds going to the state coffers would not come at the expense of Marylanders' wallets, he said.

Miller's feelings are not shared by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.

"He's not in favor of it," said O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, prefers to "let the current process play out before amending the constitution," said Busch spokeswoman Alexandra Hughes.

The bill is widely expected to face substantial opposition, Miller acknowledged.

"I doubt if it's going to pass the House this year, but if it does, we'll certainly consider passing it in the Senate," Miller said.

Maryland voters approved slots in a referendum last year, but the state received only four qualified requests for fewer than half of the 15,000 terminals allowed. The state Video Lottery Facility Location Commission isn't expected to vote on the bids for several months.

The tepid response means the state will struggle to deliver the $600 million for public schools it hoped slots would generate by the 2012 fiscal year.

In addition, the state received only $39.3 million of the $90 million it expected from the initial licensing fees.

Miller has historically supported installing slot machines at race tracks, but said other options like BWI need to be considered in light of the state's daunting budget shortfall.

"Getting money from people in other states to help pay our bills," Miller said, "that's what it's all about."

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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