01/30/2003 1:00AM

Fewer slots in Maryland plan


Gov. Robert Ehrlich of Maryland unveiled Thursday a plan for slot machines at Maryland tracks that would allow Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park, Rosecroft Raceway, and a new track in western Maryland to install 2,500 machines each, a number well below the recommendation of the Thoroughbred industry.

The plan appeared to be an attempt to reach out to legislators who have wavered in their support for slots while still fulfilling Ehrlich's campaign promise to use slots revenue to close Maryland's budget deficit. Some legislators balked at an earlier proposal for Pimlico, Laurel, and Rosecroft to have 4,500 slots each.

Ehrlich said that if legislators do not pass his plan, he would drop slots altogether and seek cutbacks by state agencies to close the budget gap, estimated at $1.5 billion over the next two years.

According to the governor's office, Ehrlich's plan would devote 64 percent of the slots revenue to education. Racetracks would get 24.8 percent, and horsemen 8 percent. The remainder would go to local jurisdictions and state departments to treat compulsive gambling disorders.

Racing interests had hoped for much bigger shares. Earlier this month, Tom Bowman, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said that even a plan for 10,000 machines giving tracks 30 percent of the revenue and horsemen 7 percent would "devastate the racing industry."