02/03/2003 12:00AM

Maryland tracks may shun slots

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Maryland racetracks will decline offers to operate slot machines if a proposal advanced by Gov. Robert Ehrlich is not changed to give racetracks more money, a spokesman for the state racing industry said on Monday.

Thomas Bowman, the president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said that Ehrlich's plan "is not viable" to the racing industry because it earmarks too large a percentage to the state's education fund and not enough to tracks and purses.

"Under the way it's structured right now, it won't work," Bowman said. "No track could afford slots under this plan. And if it's not viable for the racetracks, it doesn't work for anybody else."

Ehrlich's plan would allow three Maryland tracks - Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park, and Rosecroft Raceway - to operate 3,000 slot machines each. Another track in western Maryland that has yet to be built would be allowed 1,500 machines.

In exchange, each of the tracks that receives 3,000 machines would be required to put up a one-time $100 million licensing fee. Sixty-four percent of the proceeds from the machines would go to the state education fund, 24.8 percent to racetracks, and 7.2 percent to purses and breeding funds. Another 3 percent would go to the communities where the casinos are located to fund social projects.

Ehrlich estimated that the proposal would raise $395 million for the education fund in 2003. Using that figure, racetracks would receive approximately $150 million in slots revenue in 2003. Horsemen would receive about $45 million.