Slots Wars Heat Up
Maryland's slots wars, 17 days and counting before Labor Day's traditional fall campaign kickoff, managed to heat up anyway on Thursday.
First, state and local leaders working to defeat the November referendum held a press conference on the boardwalk in Ocean City -- host this week of the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference and a few miles from the proposed slots site at the Ocean Downs racetrack-- to denounce a small business impact statement put out by the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).
The two-paragraph "economic impact analysis" was short and sweet: If slots facilities buy goods from local businesses at the five proposed sites, "these small businesses would benefit," it concludes. The businesses include horse breeders and related racing industries.
But the analysis, required by the referendum legislation approved by the General Assembly, goes on to state that "other small businesses could be negatively impacted by the substitution of any consumer spending away from other consumption to gambling."
That's it. Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) , flanked by several council members from Montgomery County and Ocean City, held up the one- page document and called it a "scholarly study of two paragraphs that said absolutely nothing."
Meanwhile, slots supporters were gathering their own firepower for a press conference to denounce opponents for considering filing a lawsuit against the state when the language of the Nov. 4 ballot question is made public next week.
Stop Slots Maryland leaders pressed Maryland's new secretary of state, John McDonough, last month to recuse himself from preparing the ballot language, citing a conflict of interest with his former job as attorney and lobbyist for Rosecroft Raceway. McDonough said writing the language was part of his job, required by statute.
Scott Arceneaux, a senior advisor to the anti-slots campaign, told WBAL radio this week that his group will consider suing the state if the ballot language is not to their liking. The pro-slots For Maryland For Our Future took his comment to mean that opponents intend to go to court to throw out the whole referendum.
"We always thought that they would challenge the ballot language sight unseen, and that's their right, but we never thought that they would actually try to stop the referendum," Fred Puddester, chairman of the pro-slots campaign, told reporters Thursday. "Whether you're for or against the slots referendum, the fair thing to do is to allow the election to move forward."
Arcenaux and other slots opponents said Puddester is engaging in hyberbole.
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