The Maryland Attorney General’s Office says members of a state gambling work group legally can meet behind closed doors, drawing Republican leadership to counter that private conferences clearly contradict the intention behind state law.
The 11-member Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion has been meeting this month to take testimony and discuss whether the state should allow a sixth casino site in Prince George’s County and legalize table games such as blackjack and roulette.
But after a closed-door meeting of the group Monday, state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton is crying foul.
“If this isn’t a sad example of the proverbial ‘smoky back room,’ I don’t know what is,” Pipkin said in a statement Monday.
But the work group isn’t bound by the state’s open meetings law and can meet in closed session, according to a letter to Pipkin, dated Monday, from Dan Friedman, the attorney general’s counsel to the General Assembly.
Because the work group was not created by an act of the General Assembly or an executive order, and it only contained one member who was not a state employee, it was not considered a “public body,” Friedman wrote.
Furthermore, expanding gambling still would require two “very public processes” — passage of a bill by the General Assembly and the approval of voters at the ballot box, Friedman wrote.
Nonetheless, the group’s closed meeting “most certainly violates the spirit of the law,” Pipkin said in the statement.
Last week, work group Chairman John Morton III said the panel likely would meet privately to discuss the matter before what is expected to be the group’s final public meeting Wednesday.
The group is expected to approve draft legislation to expand gambling that would be considered during a special General Assembly session likely to begin July 9.
Morton said last week that meeting privately was important because gambling issues could be hotly contested.
“It’s probably better that those debates be held in a forum where people can really be very open and candid about their feelings,” he said.