Senate passes last-minute, alternative gaming bill -- Gazette.Net


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State senators unveiled an alternate plan to expand gaming into Prince George’s County Saturday amid concerns that an earlier bill hadn’t earned the support of the House.

The new proposal, which passed the Senate 37 to 9 Saturday evening, amends a bill submitted by Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-Dist. 8) of Perry Hall to allow Las Vegas-style table games at existing slots locations in the state and create a sixth casino location in Prince George’s.

“What we’re trying to do is bring out a slightly different tack and come up with a simple bill, which is a simple referendum to expand gaming in the state,” said Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington.

The bill must now be approved by the House before the end of the legislative session, scheduled for Monday night.

As with the earlier legislation, the new bill would require voters to approve the plan in this November’s general election, but would also require lawmakers to revisit the issue during the next legislative session to develop more detailed legislation regarding the implementation of the new casino location according to Madaleno.

The new bill was intended to get the issue before voters in this year’s election, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach. If the legislation doesn’t pass this year, the next opportunity to put the issue on the ballot would be in 2014, he said.

The previous bill, sponsored by Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 23) of Bowie, passed the Senate 35 to 11 in March but met with resistance this week from members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which worried that too much revenue would go to casino operators . The bill had not received a crucial subcommittee vote as of Saturday afternoon.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has advocated putting a high-end, $1 billion dollar casino at the mixed-used National Harbor development in Oxon Hill, which officials hope would draw from Virginia and Washington, D.C.

On Friday, Baker suggested to reporters that he was open to a compromise, such as a reduction in the number of machines planned for the casino.

The new Senate bill differs from the earlier legislation by allowing only 1,000 new slot machines in the state, rather than the full 4,750 called for in the first bill, according to Madaleno.

The new bill also does not include several changes in how gaming revenue is split, such as proposed increase in the amount of slots revenue kept by casino operators, from 33 percent to 40 percent. Those matters would be addressed in separate legislation during a future session, Madaleno said.

Also removed is a proposed constitutional amendment that would make the success of a referendum vote conditional on getting a majority of votes statewide as well as in Prince George’s County, a provision that had been requested by members of the Prince George’s County Council last year.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington, whose district includes National Harbor and Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, another potential slots location, objected to what he saw as a lack of discussion accompanying the bill’s rush through the Senate.

“The process is wrong,” Muse said.

dleaderman@gazette.net