04/07/2004 12:00AM

Maryland track proposed


Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is pushing for a state-owned $400 million racetrack and slot machine parlor in downtown Baltimore that would serve as the new home of the Preakness Stakes. The proposed project is part of Ehrlich's effort to break a political stalemate over legalized gambling.

The Ehrlich administration has completed a preliminary study on what it would cost to build the track, called Baltimore Gateway International, and where it would be located - on nearly 200 acres off Interstate 95 in downtown Baltimore, adjacent to the Baltimore Ravens' football stadium.

Ehrlich, a Republican, pitched the proposal on Sunday in a meeting with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats, according to legislators and aides who attended.

The legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Monday.

Several lawmakers said the idea of a downtown track could be the basis for a legislative compromise on gambling. Ehrlich has proposed legalizing slot machines as a way to raise revenue that would solve the state's upcoming budget shortfall. A slots bill that would place 15,500 machines at six locations, including three racetracks, was approved by the Senate a month ago but has stalled in the House of Delegates. House Democrats say there will be no vote on slots until Ehrlich finds another way to raise at least $500 million in revenue.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the Baltimore-area tracks Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, said in a statement Wednesday that neither it nor its majority owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., had been contacted regarding a downtown track.

The MJC, citing past and planned improvements to Pimlico, said that both it and Magna "are, and always have been, committed to the revitalization of historic Pimlico Race Course, the traditional and rightful home of the world-famous Preakness Stakes."

Of the proposed new track, the statement said, "The timeline for such a project . . . could well exceed five to seven years and necessitate the condemnation of dozens of businesses and enterprises yet to even be publicly identified."