05/25/2005 11:00PM

More Maryland slots talks


Maryland needs to discuss ways to make horse racing competitive without the legalization of slot machines, House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Wednesday after meeting with officials of Magna Entertainment, the majority owner of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.

Busch all but ruled out a special session on gambling after meeting with Magna officials, who have been urging legislators to call the session for later this year in the hope of getting approval to operate slots at its two Maryland tracks.

Magna officials also met with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley on Wednesday in the hope that O'Malley could help broker a compromise between supporters of slot machines at racetracks and Busch, who has been a chief opponent of plans to legalize the machines.

Dennis Mills, a Magna vice president who participated in Wednesday's discussions, said he was pleased with the discussions and hopeful that Maryland leaders would reach a consensus on a way to help horse racing, which he said is suffering because tracks in neighboring states augment their purses with proceeds from slot machines.

"We remain optimistic that all legislators here will do what needs to be done," Mills said.

Despite Busch's reluctance, Mills said that slots are an essential component of any strategy to improve Maryland racing. Magna's two tracks in the state need major overhauls to make them more attractive to customers, and even seemingly simple improvements such as allowing racing at night would require a substantial investment, he said.