11/16/2007 1:00AM

Maryland slots plan advances

EmailThe Maryland house of delegates narrowly approved a plan Friday to let voters decide next year whether slot machines should be legalized in the state.

The house passed a version of Gov. Martin O'Malley's slots referendum bill by a 86-52 vote. The bill, already passed by the senate, needed a three-fifths majority.

The house amended the senate version of the bill to stipulate that slot parlors must comply with local planning and zoning laws. Delegates also amended the bill to require a referendum, instead of a majority vote from the legislature, to expand gambling in the future.

Under the plan, voters would decide in November 2008 whether to allow 15,000 slot machines at five sites - one each in Baltimore and the counties of Anne Arundel, Allegany, Cecil and Worcester. The sites are narrowly defined to include Ocean Downs in Worcester and Laurel Park in Anne Arundel, but not Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

House speaker Michael E. Busch has said the house would wait until after the referendum passed to consider a separate bill, also passed in the senate, to implement and regulate a slots program. The senate's president, Thomas V. Mike Miller, has insisted that the house must approve both bills for any slots legislation to have a chance of final passage during the current special session.