updated 10/12/2006 3:26:24 PM ET 2006-10-12T19:26:24

Gambling interests are hedging their bets in the Maryland governor's race - they're giving money to both the Democrat and Republican in hopes of getting slot-machine gambling approved at state racetracks.

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Gambling supporters have long given money to Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who has pushed unsuccessfully for approval of the slot machines. Campaign finance records reported by The Washington Post Thursday show that some donations also are going to Ehrlich's Democratic challenger, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who also supports slot machine gambling.

Some of the donors said that if O'Malley wins, he may have better luck persuading a Democratic legislature to approve slots.

Democratic edge?
"It's my view that, from a political standpoint, anyone in the governor's office that's a Democrat may have a better chance to deliver on slots," Tom Bowman, a veterinarian and horse breeder, told the newspaper.

Bowman was president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association during the years Ehrlich pushed hardest to expand legalized gambling. Bowman said he hasn't given to either candidate this year, but that some slot-machine advocates are turning up at O'Malley fundraisers.

The Thoroughbred Breeders and Horsemen's political action committee has given $3,000 to each candidate, the newspaper reported. Joseph A. DeFrancis, who owns shares of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, was a major supporter of Ehrlich's in the aftermath of the 2002 campaign. He donated $2,000 to O'Malley in August and attended a fundraiser for him last week. 2006 key races

Playing both sides
Ehrlich raised more than $60,000 from gambling interests from 2002 to 2004 while he was pushing the General Assembly to approve his sweeping slots plan. During the past two years, though, O'Malley started closing the gap, raising more than $12,000 as Ehrlich took in $30,000.

"They're playing both sides," Ehrlich said. "I've been saying it for four years: Left-leaning groups don't play that way. We shouldn't either. People should be supporting those who agree with their platform."

Ehrlich's closest advisers have tried to fight back.

In phone calls and handwritten notes, Richard E. Hug, Ehrlich's chief fundraiser, told several O'Malley donors that he was keeping track of their giving.

"I do remind people how important this election is," Hug said.

A spokesman for O'Malley, Hari Sevugan, said the donations to O'Malley indicate the governor is unable to deliver on a call for slot-machine gambling. Sevugan said O'Malley supports slot machines at race tracks, but that slots would not be O'Malley's top priority if elected.

"He doesn't see slot machines as a silver bullet for all the state's woes," Sevugan said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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