A work group appointed by the governor will convene next week to study the issue of expanded gaming in the state, but some critics say their conclusions, and another General Assembly special session, already may be a done deal.
The Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion, announced by the governor’s office Monday night, is scheduled to meet three times in June to examine the issues related to potentially spreading gambling in Maryland. If consensus is reached, the group likely will propose legislation for a special session to convene July 9.
But House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby said he suspected the decision to expand gaming already had been made. “If they were serious, they’d have more than three meetings scheduled,” he said.
O’Donnell said that gambling was not an issue that warranted another special session at the taxpayers’ expense and should be addressed during the legislature’s regular session, when it can be taken up in a rational, unhurried setting.
The 11-member work group includes three lawmakers who have supported gaming expansion, at least one who has expressed reservations, and five members of the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has maintained a neutral stance on the issue.
During this year’s regular General Assembly session, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach pushed legislation to expand gambling to include Las Vegas-style table games at existing slots sites and an additional casino location in Prince George’s County. But the measure was not brought to a final vote in the House before the session adjourned April 9.
Critics accused Miller of effectively holding the state’s budget bills hostage until the gaming bill passed, a charge that the Senate president repeatedly denied.
Del. Frank Turner (D-Dist. 13) of Columbia, who chairs the gaming subcommittee and has been skeptical of expanding slots in the state, said he was hopeful the group would take an objective look at the issue.
Turner was one of six lawmakers nominated by the presiding officers of the two chambers. The work group includes three senators, three delegates and five members of the O’Malley administration.
The group will be chaired by John Morton III, whom O’Malley appointed to chair the Maryland Stadium Authority in 2008.
Senators include Richard Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington and Nathaniel McFadden (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore, who co-sponsored the gaming expansion bill that failed in the regular session, as well as Budget & Taxation Committee Chairman Edward Kasemeyer (D-Dist. 12) of Columbia. Kasemeyer voted for the bill in committee and on the Senate floor.
Delegates include Turner, Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, and Health and Government Operations Committee Chair Peter Hammen (D-Dist. 46) of Baltimore.
Hixon and Hammen did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday.
“I think everyone’s going to go in with an open mind,” Madaleno said. “I don’t think [the governor] has any specific plan in mind as of yet.”
Kasemeyer said that he personally was not opposed to expanded gaming, but didn’t have a sense of how House members or the governor felt on the issue.
“If it’s preconceived [decision], I’m not aware of it,” Kasemeyer said.
“It became evident in the 2012 legislative session that the issue of gaming should be examined in more detail,” O’Malley said in a statement Monday.
In naming the members of the work group, O’Malley said, “We are confident that their expertise and guidance will help us move toward consensus on this issue.”
Administration members include Chief of Staff Matthew Gallagher, Secretary of Budget and Management T. Eloise Foster, Secretary of Appointments Jeanne Hitchcock and O’Malley policy adviser Joseph Bryce.
The work group will hold its first meeting June 1, and additional meetings have been scheduled for June 12 and 20.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis said Tuesday that the group was reflective of the demographics of the state, and that legislators were chosen from the committees that have jurisdiction over gaming issues.
Busch pointed out that two of the alternate members, who can attend the meetings and participate in the discussion, were Del. Derek Davis (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro and Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 23) of Bowie, both from Prince George’s County.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III (D) wants to develop a billion-dollar, high-end gambling facility at National Harbor, which he argues would draw visitors from Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
“You certainly want support from the Prince George’s County delegation, at least the majority of them, if in fact they want a [casino] there,” Busch said.
If another session is called, it likely will mean that expansion is a done deal, said Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City.
“If the votes aren’t there, Miller won’t want a special session,” Eberly said.
The speaker told reporters last month that on the last day of the regular session only about 38 of the 141 delegates supported the bill to expand gaming. About 30 members were opposed, and the remaining votes were either undecided or unknown, Busch said.
In order to reach a consensus on the issue, lawmakers would need to be sure expanded gaming would benefit the state financially and mitigate any loss in revenue to planned casino sites in Baltimore city and Anne Arundel County, Busch said.
Miller told reporters last week that the developers of the Maryland Live! casino in Anne Arundel would be offered some sort of break in order to be held harmless if a casino opened in neighboring Prince George’s.