Slots have been getting news headlines across Maryland this week. A poll on our website dealt specifically with the one-arm bandits coming to the Ocean Downs racetrack. With about 160 people voting over a two-week span, 61 percent said they want to see slots at the ocean oval, while 39 percent oppose it. Although I disagree with the majority’s view here, the result is not surprising. Similar polls elsewhere have returned the same general findings. Whether it’s lack of education on the matter, the hope expanded gambling will save the horse racing industry, the perceived need for another entertainment venue, economic reasons or other matters, I believe most people statewide will vote for slots if it comes down to a fall of 2008 referendum as proposed. It’s worth pointing out the County Commissioners voted 5-2 this week to draft a letter asking the governor, “to remove Worcester County and Ocean Downs as a proposed venue for a video lottery terminal facility in any such legislation under consideration,” and the Ocean City Mayor and Council charted a similar course last month.
As quick as the temperatures plunged this week, gas prices have soared. According to an AAA Mid-Atlantic report this week, the average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in Maryland on Wednesday was $2.95, an 81-cent increase over the same time period last year. The average nationwide is $3.04. The reason for the surge is that crude oil prices are approaching the $100-per-barrel mark. Earlier this year, it was around $45. Although the price at the local pump is hard to stomach these days, locals can take solace in the fact it’s not as bad around here as it is elsewhere. On a road trip last weekend, I noticed unleaded gas prices in the mid-$3 range along I-95.
The annual Winterfest of Lights gig gets rolling next week with much fanfare. City employees began setting up the massive Northside Park display the week of Sunfest. Ocean City Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster reported this week preliminary set-up of the event started Monday, Sept. 17. He said the work begins with the delivery of trailers full of the displays from storage. By the beginning of October, Shuster said crews begin building the village in the city’s Jamaica Ave. parking lot and setting out displays in areas of the park not used by the fall sports programs. After the 45-day event wraps up on Jan. 2, crews take on the arduous task of packing it away strategically based on how the displays will be laid out for the next year’s event. “For us, Winterfest actually starts in September and isn’t over until March 1. So after five months of ‘looking at all things Christmas’ we are happy to see it go away,” Shuster wrote in an email this week.
A look at some of the items making news in this paper five years ago this week was particularly interesting. What was eventually to be the Gateway Grand project, currently being constructed in mid-town Ocean City, was far from it in 2002, as officials were unable to come to terms on a planned sale of property, raising questions over whether it would ever be developed. A local Critical Areas bill was passed protecting the immediate shoreline of Worcester County, and a recent story in this paper documented how the jury is still out on how effective the legislation has been over the last five years on the local front. Arnold Downing was named chief of police in Berlin and is therefore celebrating five years as the small town’s top cop. Fresh off his easy win in the General Election, then-Governor-Elect Bob Ehrlich announced his intentions to introduce a bill for slots in Maryland. He said the election was a referendum on slots and confirmed Marylanders want more gambling. The 100th Street parking lot was identified as a potential site for a new Ocean City library branch. Construction is continuing today on that facility with an anticipated opening early next year.