Work group recommends no special session on gaming -- Gazette.Net


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Plans for a special General Assembly session to discuss expanding gambling in Maryland appear dead after members of a state work group failed to reach consensus Wednesday.

While a majority of members supported a plan that would have allowed Las Vegas-style table games and added a sixth casino site in Prince George’s County, three state delegates would not support a proposed decrease in the state’s tax rate on slot machines.

“Unless a consensus can be reached, a convening of a special session to address the expansion of gaming in Maryland would not be successful,” said John Morton III, chair of the 11-member Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion, during the group’s final meeting in Annapolis Wednesday.

The group, which included three state delegates and three senators, was convened earlier this month to evaluate the state’s gaming market and, if there was consensus, develop draft legislation to be considered by lawmakers in a special session this July.

A special session would need to occur this summer to ensure that the issue could be placed on the ballot in this fall’s general election.

The group met behind closed doors for several hours today, and didn’t begin its public meeting until about 4 p.m., three hours after it was scheduled to begin.

There was agreement among group members on several issues related to gaming expansion, such as allowing table games, removing restrictions on casino operating hours and shifting ownership of slot machines from the state to casino operators.

Changes supported by a majority of group members would have added an additional $223 million annually to the state education trust fund, Morton said.

But delegates were unwilling to support lowering the state’s 67 percent tax rate on slots revenue to 62 percent, a move that would have help draw a high-end casino to the National Harbor development in Prince George’s.

Delegate Peter Hammen (D-Dist. 46 of Baltimore) said House members were willing to support the Prince George’s casino, but only at the existing tax rate.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) wants to put a billion-dollar casino and resort at National Harbor that would draw visitors from Virginia and Washington, D.C.

MGM Resorts International, which operates the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, announced Friday that it would develop a casino at the site, suggested that the slots tax rate should be lowered to about 52 percent.

Governor Martin O’Malley (D) told reporters in Baltimore Wednesday afternoon that the objections of House members “didn’t make a lot of sense” and came as a surprise.

“This is a piece of the state’s financing, but our sun doesn’t rise or set based on this one sector,” O’Malley said, adding that he was looking forward to discussing the issue with House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis, but didn’t know when that would occur.

dleaderman@gazette.net