03/17/2003 12:00AM

Maryland slots set back six months

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Supporters of slot machines at racetracks in Maryland were dealt a blow Friday when the state General Assembly voted to delay any legislation for six months, serving notice that few legislators are enthusiastic about pushing an issue backed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

The General Assembly voted 126-11 in favor of a bill that would require a six-month study before any enactment of slots legislation. The bill does not preclude the Assembly from voting on any other slots bill during its current session, which ends in three weeks, but slot opponents seized on the vote to say that support for slots is drying up.

The delay could also give other business groups - including Las Vegas casino companies - time to push their efforts to break the tracks' monopoly on operating slots in Maryland.

In the Senate, leaders spent Friday and Saturday working on Ehrlich's proposal to make it more politically palatable. Some senators have suggested cutting the racetracks' share of the slots proceeds, but racetrack representatives said that their 46 percent cut was the minimum to finance their new casinos.

"It won't be possible for us to finance the project if we end up with less," said Joe De Francis, the president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.