02/03/2005 12:00AM

New slots plan shown in Maryland


BALTIMORE - Creating a unified front to show they could spend slot machine proceeds wisely, Maryland horse racing officials unveiled a plan earlier this week that they said could revive the sport in the state if lawmakers authorize an expansion of gambling.

The 15-page plan is less notable for what it contains than for who signed it, bringing together competing factions whose back-biting has contributed to the failure of slot machine legislation for the past two years.

Signatories include James L. Gagliano, executive vice president of racing in Maryland for Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns controlling interest in Pimlico and Laurel racetracks; William M. Rickman Jr. of the Allegany Racing Association, which plans to build a track in Little Orleans in western Maryland; and Howard M. Mosner Jr. of the Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society Inc., which conducts racing at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. Racehorse owners and breeders also endorsed it.

The plan, which includes marketing and expanded offtrack betting, focuses only on Thoroughbred racing.

As a result, there was no mention of Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track in Prince George's County that is being purchased by members of the family of attorney and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos. Industry members said they would include the Rosecroft buyers in talks once the purchase is complete.

"This is historic," Gagliano said. "It's probably the first time that we as a group have come together on a common platform on these issues."

The plan was presented on Tuesday to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the Anne Arundel County Democrat who has been the chief legislative opponent to slots since Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s election. Busch has repeatedly asked the ailing racing industry to demonstrate how it intends to revive its sport.

Busch would not say if the plan could ease his concerns about slots. But he called the document "the most substantive thing we've received."

The release of the plan comes as the legislature prepares to debate Ehrlich's gambling proposal for the third straight year.

The governor's legislation calls for 15,500 slot machines at six locations, including the Pimlico, Laurel, and Rosecroft tracks and the unbuilt Allegany facility. Two other nontrack locations would be allowed, raising the possibility that the city of Baltimore or Prince George's County could have two or three slots outlets. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will hear testimony on the bill next week.

Maryland's racing industry has been pressing for slot machines to compete on better terms with Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where slots have been legalized. Under the plan, Laurel would become the state's pre-eminent racing venue, with Pimlico conducting a six-week meet that would culminate in May with the Preakness Stakes.

The plan does not address some of the thorniest issues surrounding the slots debate, such as where the machines should be placed and how profits would be divided.