Maryland to vote on slot referendum in 2008

After many years of political squabbling over slot machines at racetracks, Maryland lawmakers finally agreed to send it to the voters.

In a special budget session called by Gov. Martin O’Malley, both the Senate and House passed measures to place a constitutional amendment referendum on the November 2008 ballot, which would allow 15,000 slot machines at five locations in the state.

They include 4,750 machines in Anne Arundel County, 3,750 in Baltimore city, 2,500 each in Cecil and Worcester Counties, and 1,500 in Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland. Two racetracks are in line for the machines-Laurel Park in Anne Arundel and Ocean Downs in Worcester.

Revenues from the machines, which would be overseen by the Maryland Lottery, would be allocated as follows: 48.5 percent to the Education Trust Fund; 33 percent to the operators; 7 percent to purses; 5.5 percent for local impact grants; 2 percent to the lottery for expenses; 1.5 percent to a new Small, Minority, and Women-Owned Business Account; and 2.5 percent to a new Racetrack Facility Renewal Account. The latter amount applies only during the first eight years of operation; after that, the 2.5 percent reverts to the Education Trust Fund.

The tax rate is one of the highest in the country, and is higher than the rates in neighboring states.

“It’s important for people to understand that this is no windfall for the industry, either for the racetracks or the horsemen,” said Louis J. Raffetto, Jr., former president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park and Pimlico. “It may not be perfect for us, but we’ll accept it and try to get the referendum to pass. [If we are successful], we’ll make it work as best we can. It will enable us to bring Maryland racing back to a foremost position in the mid-Atlantic region.”

As for what happens next, Raffetto noted that the racing industry’s energies so far have been focused on getting past this first step in the process. “Now we have a year to prepare and a number of months to figure it out.”