Md. Legislature Decides to Locate Slots on Gibson Island

by William D. Schmerde

Decision on location seen as breakthrough in getting controversial legislation passed.
In a stunning reversal of all previously enunciated plans and policies, representatives in the Maryland Legislature have come to an agreement about where a casino will be located.

"It was a process of elimination," explained Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who favors slot machines as a way to raise state revenues. "Nobody wanted it anywhere near them. Nobody wanted to look at it, no matter how attractive we promised it would be, and nobody wants to have to deal with all the traffic and social problems that come with having gambling located nearby. So we had to go back to the drawing board and really take a new look at the situation. And Gibson Island just proved to be the place the Democrats and Republicans could both agree on."

Now that the elite island at the eastern tip of Route 100 in Anne Arundel County has been designated as the site, Ehrlich expressed optimism that Senate Bill 197, "Public Education Bridge to Excellence-Funding-Video Lottery Terminals," will clear the House in a floor vote.

The vote can't come soon enough for Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-District 29C), who remarked, "Every day we stall on considering this viable plan to address our structural budget deficit, over $800,000 is being gambled away by Marylanders who are playing the slots in Delaware and West Virginia because they don't have these amenities in their own state. About half that money would be filling our treasury to benefit our schools. We've really got to move on this right away."

Gibson Island emerged as a favorite because discussions in chambers led to the conclusion that the State of Maryland, rather than private entities-in the absence of a qualifying Indian tribe in the state-would own any casinos that are built.

"Once we broke through on that point," said Del. Elliott Dingelbopper (R-32nd), "we realized we could locate a casino anywhere we wanted because we could exercise eminent domain. Gibson Island, once we clear out the mansions, offers a beautiful site and the ability to limit access and give security. We'll have a large resort there, of course, and have top name entertainment, too. But the main attraction, like in Vegas, will be the slots."

Ehrlich said, "It's too bad some folks will lose their homes, but they're good citizens on Gibson Island-mostly rich Republicans, frankly-and they'll understand the importance of their sacrifice for the public good, and be willing to accept our valuations of their property and move on."

He stressed that revenue from what are being called "video lottery terminals" will be earmarked to pay 96% of the remaining "Thornton Commitment" to improve the state's public schools. "Without gambling, our kids will be high and dry," he said, "plus which, gambling's a smoke-free industry that'll create jobs."

Amos Fielding, a Gibson Island homeowner whose living room overlooks the Chesapeake Bay, said, "Over my dead body will the state take my house." He excused himself to call his lawyer.

Mimi Lancaster, whose Mercedes sedan's license plate reads "FLUFFY," was returning from a tennis match when approached by a reporter to be informed of the Legislature's intent.

"They can't do that, can they?" she asked. When assured that the State can, in fact, condemn and take property under eminent domain for a public purpose, she said, "We'll see about that! I'll call Bob Ehrlich and give him a piece of my mind! We gave him a big chunk of money for his campaign, and he's got some explaining to do!"

Gibson Island was selected from among a "short list" of locations that included Cambridge on the Eastern Shore, Cumberland in Western Maryland, St. Mary's City in Southern Maryland, and St. Mary's Seminary and Roland Park Country School in the northern part of Baltimore City.

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This story was published on March 19, 2004.