Casino question still stalled; unions keep pushing -- Gazette.Net







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The stalemate in regard to expanding gambling in Maryland has dragged into a second week, and the chances of another special legislative session remain uncertain.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) told reporters in Ocean City this week that although he still was pursuing an agreement on plans to allow a casino in Prince George’s County, the odds of lawmakers reconvening this summer were about 50-50.

Efforts to expand gambling in the state with table games and a sixth venue have been on hold since this past week, when a state work group failed to agree on a provision to lower Maryland’s tax rate on slot machines’ revenue.

The impasse led O’Malley to lash out at House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis, suggesting in a statement that Busch orchestrated the disagreement to protect the interests of the recently opened Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover.

Busch told reporters he wasn’t involved in the internal debate among the three House members on the work group who objected to the lower tax rate.

The work group was expected to offer recommendations that would be considered during a special General Assembly session in July. O’Malley and Busch have said they will continue discussions to see if a consensus can be reached.

But supporters on both sides of the issue aren’t taking it easy. Union leaders renewed their push for a National Harbor casino Monday in Annapolis, citing a new poll showing a majority of Marylanders support the plan.

Fifty-nine percent of Maryland voters are in favor of allowing Las Vegas-style table games, and 56 percent back a proposed $800 million MGM casino at the Prince George’s County waterfront development, according to the poll of 821 voters conducted June 22 and 23 by the Annapolis-based OpinionWorks on behalf of the Washington, D.C., Building and Construction Trades Council.

Pollsters told voters the project would create an estimated 8,400 jobs and draw 70 percent of its visitors from out of state.

“[This] represents the largest union construction jobs project in the country,” said Vance Ayres, executive director of the trades council, an affiliation of unions in the D.C. area. “We need these jobs.”

Fifty-seven percent of voters polled said lawmakers should try to resolve the gambling issues as soon as possible, according to the poll.

Supporters and opponents of the National Harbor project have come out swinging in the media during the past week.

The trades council has sponsored a series of radio and TV spots arguing in favor of table games and a sixth casino. One of the ads blames opposition on the machinations of “Baltimore billionaire” David Cordish, developer of Maryland Live!

Cordish has argued a Prince George’s casino would siphon business from his casino, and has asked lawmakers not to allow another site until all five approved casinos are up and running.

The Prince George’s County Contractors and Business Association, which previously has supported an effort by Penn National Gaming to bring slots to Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, put out a statement of its own June 19 taking aim at MGM’s integrity. The statement suggested a Hong Kong businesswoman the company partnered with to build a casino in Macau had ties to organized crime in China.

New Jersey gaming regulators made the allegation against Pansy Ho in 2009, but MGM, which still is partnered with Ho, has said there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Ho.

Penn National Gaming paid more money to Maryland lobbyists than anyone else this year, spending $877,433 between Nov. 1 and April 30.

But Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III (D) has made clear that National Harbor is his choice for a casino location, and the final bill considered by lawmakers during this year’s regular session restricted possible casino sites to a narrow area that included National Harbor and little else.