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Worcester County Commissioners Against Slots

By Bob Lassahn

A last minute addition to the agenda for the November 6 meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners noted as "Discussion regarding Proposed Statewide Video Lottery Terminal (Slot Machine) Legislation," set for 2 p.m. became the focal point of what was otherwise a rather routine gathering of the body. Appended to the meeting based upon a request from the Town of Ocean City, the commissioners pondered the question of sending a letter opposing slot machines in the county to the governor and state delegation.

Commissioner Judy Boggs led off the discussion stating she was not in favor of taking a position either for or against slots at the time due to lack of input from the public. She was immediately countered by Commissioner Bud Church expressing the position that slots run counter to the family oriented image of the resort, further expressing the opinion that he opposed slots in the state, but most specifically in Worcester County. He summarized that the mayors of Berlin and Pocomoke expressed their alignment with Ocean City opposing slots and announced his intent to place a motion before the body to send the requested letter of opposition.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley stated a desire to withhold an expression of opposition pending a referendum, a stand he noted the commissioners had taken two years ago. Commissioners Bob Cowger and Linda Busick expressed similar views, with Ms. Busick noting many unanswered questions regarding impact upon residents.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas recalled the period during the 1940s when Worcester was a "wide open" county and the accompanying corruption. She stated her adamant opposition to slots with the statement that slots "bring nothing we need." Mr. Church followed quickly with a rebuttal to those preferring to await the result of a referendum, offering that he strongly believes no referendum would be held regarding the slots bill.

Mrs. Boggs attempted a rebuttal to the outspoken opposition of her colleagues stating she wanted to subject the proposed slots bills to review by an attorney and obtain public input. She categorized a vote without such knowledge as arbitrary.

Commission President James Purnell recognized Ocean City Council President Joseph Mitrecic to speak and he took the podium to summarize that Ocean Downs was the only location specifically targeted by the proposed legislation. He expressed the hope that  at minimum the machines would not be placed so near the entrance to two of the largest residential areas in the county, referring to Ocean Pines and Glen Riddle.

Mr. Purnell then stated his own opposition to slots in Worcester County, noting that the poor would be the group most significantly impacted by gambling. He also expressed the opinion he did not believe a referendum would be held and he had an obligation to support sending a letter of opposition.

After Mr. Purnell allowed businessman Bill Ochse an opportunity to state his opposition to slots Mrs. Boggs interjected that she believed accepting such testimony without properly advertising a public hearing to be inappropriate. Mr. Purnell disagreed and continued hearing from those present.

Gabe Purnell, representing the NAACP offered the organization's objections to slots gambling, and noted he was encouraged that some commissioners were taking a hard stand.
Mayor Michael McDermott of Pocomoke City also delivered an appeal to the commissioners for their opposition to slots and casino gambling. Additionally he noted the town is now opposed to a previous idea of moving the slots venue to a location in Pocomoke. Additional speakers opposing slots included Dr. Leonard Berger representing the Ocean City Economic Development Corp. and a representative of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. There were no speakers favoring slot machines in the county and most objected to their presence anywhere in the state.

Following the discussion Mr. Cowger stated that after listening to the leaders in the community he was inclined to send the opposition letter. Mrs. Boggs continued her objection to what she deemed an inappropriate public hearing and protested that the commissioners did not have an opportunity to hear the other side of the argument.

Mr. Church introduced his motion to send a letter to the governor and Worcester's state delegation stating the commissioners' opposition to slots in the county. After a failed attempt to incorporate language regarding a possible referendum his original motion, seconded by Mrs. Gulyas was called to a vote. The margin was 5-2 with commissioners Purnell, Gulyas, Church, Cowger and Busick supporting a letter of opposition to slots and commissioners Boggs and Shockley objecting.

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Uploaded: 11/14/2007