11/19/2007 12:00AM

Maryland slots vote OK'd

EmailThe Maryland senate and house of delegates gave final approval on Sunday night to a referendum on slot-machine gambling, sending to voters an issue that has bitterly divided state politicians for years.

Because the bill calls for a referendum that would amend the Maryland constitution, it does not require approval from Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who supported the measure. In the same contest that will decide the country's next president in November 2008, voters will decide whether to allow 15,000 slot machines in five locations throughout the state: one each in Baltimore and the counties of Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil, and Worcester.

The senate also voted 25-19 on Sunday night to approve a bill that lays out the nuts and bolts of a slots program, such as the division of revenue and the procedure for granting slots licenses.

The slots legislation allocates 48.5 percent of the revenue to an education trust fund, 33 percent to the slots operators, 7 percent to horse racing purse subsidies, and the rest for aid to local government and other expenditures.

If approved, the measure would allow slots at Laurel Park in Anne Arundel and Ocean Downs in Worcester, but not at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course. Laurel and Pimlico are the only Thoroughbred tracks in Maryland, and both are owned by Magna Entertainment Corp.

Louis J. Raffetto Jr., president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park and Pimlico, said he will work with horse owners, breeders and unions that represent hundreds of racing-industry employees.

"It's the first time in a long time that I can truly say I'm optimistic about the future of Maryland racing and the Preakness," he said. "This gives us a fighting chance to maintain Maryland's racing heritage."