Commissioner Regrets Last Week’s Slots Vote

SNOW HILL – One County Commissioner who voted to oppose slot machines in Worcester County regrets his vote to approve that stance, he revealed less than a week after the vote was taken.

Although he was convinced last week that the county leaders opposed slot machines, Commissioner Bobby Cowger, who represents Pocomoke, would now like to get his vote approving the anti-slots letter back.

That letter was derided by some as a fruitless attempt to influence decisions being made at the highest levels of state government, but late Wednesday afternoon, it looked like the letter might have tipped the scales for slots in Worcester County.

The Maryland House’s gaming subcommittee voted to remove slot machine gambling from Ocean Downs and switch that fourth location to Frederick County, only to reverse itself yesterday morning.

Lawmakers involved in the Wednesday decision said the Frederick County site would generate more revenue year round than Ocean Downs in Worcester County, but that argument has not prevailed.

Cowger said this week that the anti-slot machine stance of Pocomoke City Mayor Mike McDermott convinced him to vote to send that letter to state lawmakers opposing slot machines in Worcester County.

His was the swing vote with Commissioner Linda Busick following his example after earlier voicing her support for waiting for a referendum.

“Some emotion got involved in my thinking,” Cowger said of his decision to break away from his support for a referendum, a stance he expressed early in the commissioners’ last minute discussion of slot machine gambling on Nov. 6.       

Commissioners Judy Boggs and Virgil Shockley, the hold-outs in Tuesday’s 5 to 2 vote to send the anti-slots letter, supported waiting for the referendum.

“They did the right thing. I don’t think I did,” Cowger said.

Earlier in the meeting, Cowger counseled caution, saying that while the five members of the Pocomoke City Council voted their opposition to slots in a straw poll earlier this month, several people he informally polled in a local fast food restaurant said they wanted slot machines in Worcester County.  He himself is not 100-percent against slot machines, Cowger said.

Busick appeared to change her stance as well when the votes were counted, casting her ‘yea’ vote for the letter of opposition despite earlier saying that she also supports a referendum.

Busick later explained that she continues to support a referendum, but that communications she has received from her constituents are overwhelmingly opposed to slot machine gambling.

“I did not change my mind based on the speakers, although they were very compelling,” Busick said. “I had to make that decision based on the information I had at the time.”

A referendum is almost certain for next fall, but it would be state wide, not county by county. Worcester County’s 50,000 voters could see their votes swamped by the wishes of the state as a whole.

Worcester County has never held its own referendum, as a way of determining the majority opinion on slot machines.

Some of the County Commissioners appear to have thought that their 2003 letter supporting a referendum on slot machine gambling had made their position clear.

“We all maintained that our official stance was we would ask for a referendum. That was it,” said Shockley.

Local leaders and lawmakers in Annapolis, however, either did not remember that letter or disregarded it when those leaders testified against slots in Annapolis.  When asked about the commissioners’ position on slot machines, Ocean City officials had to say they did not know and that set the stage for last minute’s meeting.