Dueling Rallies on Slots in Annapolis
Supporters and opponents of slot-machine gambling staged dueling rallies this morning in Annapolis, as lawmakers prepared for a day of hearings on Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to legalize the video terminal machines in Maryland.
Slots is perhaps the most controversial measure in the plan introduced by O'Malley (D) to close a budget shortfall projected to be at least $1.5 million.
Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) rallied on the steps of the state Treasury Building with a couple dozen slots opponents. He said he believes the slots measure could fail in the legislature's special session and that supporters are pushing the "panic button."
"The tide is turning in our favor and the forces of evil are on the defensive," Franchot said. Franchot called legalizing slot machines a "sleazy, predatory, corrupt, regressive tax on poor people."
"This divisive and corrosive debate about slots has consumed all our energy," Franchot said. He said Marylanders are being held hostage to the national gaming industry.
Meanwhile, several hundred people working in the horse racing industry rallied steps from the State House in support of O'Malley's slots bill. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) joined the rally and said passing the slots measure is "a very easy issue for me."
"I know what racing means to Maryland," Miller said. "We're going to make it happen ..... we're going to get it done."
The crowd cheered, "Thank you, Mike!" and "Keep up the fight, Mike!"
Several labor union leaders said bringing slot-machine gambling to Maryland would help revive the state's slumping horse-racing industry and save jobs.
"Our livelihoods are on the line," said Michael Jeffra, who has worked at race tracks for 25 years. "Mr. O'Malley, wherever you're at, please help us save our jobs."
-- Philip Rucker
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