09/08/2004 11:00PM

Maryland slots plan fails


Plans for a November referendum on legalizing slot machines in Maryland collapsed late Wednesday after a closed-door meeting that ended with allies of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch trading charges of bad-faith negotiating.

"It's done, done, done, done, done," Ehrlich said after the meeting. "I told you all not to get your hopes up."

Ehrlich's comments came shortly after House Democrats emerged from a private session declaring that they had the 85 votes needed to pass a bill to put the referendum on the ballot - if Ehrlich could persuade 35 Republicans to sign on.

Maryland political leaders had tentatively agreed Monday to support a constitutional amendment that would have legalized 13,500 to 15,500 slot machines at six sites, including Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park, and Rosecroft Raceway.

Ehrlich said Busch agreed to rally votes among majority Democrats for the plan, passed by the Senate earlier this year. Instead, the governor said, many Democrats wanted to change the Senate plan or push for a radically different House version.

Democratic House members countered that it was Ehrlich who was reneging on a commitment because he did not demonstrate he could deliver a majority of Republican votes to pass an amendment.