Gov. Martin O’Malley will announce a special legislative session on gambling Friday morning, according to a State House source, but some House of Delegates members will continue haggling before pledging their votes for a bill to expand gambling in Maryland.
Such an expansion — expected at least to include table games and a Prince George’s County casino — needs to be passed by legislators before Aug. 20 to appear on the ballot in November. The state constitution requires any expansion of gambling to be approved by the state’s voters.
O’Malley, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist.30) of Annapolis and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach are scheduled to discuss a special session at a news conference Friday morning.
Busch met with House Democratic leaders for more than an hour Wednesday to make sure the expected announcement from O’Malley didn’t catch delegates off-guard.
Despite the impending call for a special session, it’s not clear whether O’Malley (D) has rounded up the 71 votes a gambling bill needs to pass the House. The Senate approved two bills to expand gambling during this year's regular session, but neither received a floor vote in the House.
“I’m assuming [the governor] believes that the votes are there to pass legislation,” Busch said.
But Baltimore city House delegation Chairman Curt Anderson (D-Dist. 43) said he didn’t see how O’Malley could be certain.
“The governor does not have a whip system,” Anderson said. The administration had not reached out to many delegates Anderson had spoken to in the past two weeks to get a vote count, he said.
O’Malley met with members of the city delegation last week. The delegation had planned to convene again this week to discuss a draft bill that was expected from the governor’s office, but the meeting was canceled when no bill was released.
The governor has not formally met with other delegations, but staffers say he’s made numerous calls to House members and leaders.
Del. Frank Turner (D-Dist. 13) of Columbia, who chairs the House subcommittee on gambling issues, says he hasn’t been one of those members, which surprised him.
Del. Guy Guzzone (D-Dist. 13) of Columbia, who chairs of the Howard County House delegation, said Thursday the votes for gambling legislation were not clearly in place.
“I do not think it is a done deal at all,” he said.
Even as the clock ticks down, the lack of a firm agreement means lawmakers still can seek concessions in exchange for their votes.
The Baltimore delegation wants considerations such as increased bonding authority for city schools before its members will support a gaming bill, Anderson said.
Montgomery County Council members this week said their representatives must ensure the county gets something in return for supporting expanded gambling.
Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park suggested delegates should seek more money for transportation projects, either through a gas tax or increased funding for the proposed Purple Line light-rail system.
The Baltimore County House delegation hadn’t yet agreed to ask for concessions, but probably would if other counties were doing so, said Chairman John Olszewski Jr. (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk.
“It could be argued that our constituents are being done a disservice [if we don’t],” Olszewski said. Once a specific proposal is presented, the delegation will meet to decide if it will make a request, he said.
The Prince George’s House delegation hasn’t met to discuss expanded gambling since the end of this year’s regular session in April, when a straw vote found 13 delegates supported expansion and 10 were opposed, said Del. Michael Vaughn (D-Dist. 24) of Bowie, the delegation’s vice chairman.
Guzzone said it was too early to tell how the Howard County delegation would respond.
“I think we’re in wait-and-see mode,” he said.
But the pursuit of such concessions could backfire on lawmakers, said Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s city.
If the public finds out that special deals were cut in exchange for support, it could further erode public confidence in the legislature, which took a public relations hit from the budget impasse at the end of this year’s regular session.
A special session of the legislature initially was expected earlier this month, but those plans collapsed when a state work group failed to reach a final agreement on an expansion proposal.
House members balked at plans to lower the state’s 67 percent tax on slots revenues.
An Aug. 8 start date for a special session was rumored earlier this week, but State House sources Thursday could not confirm a date.
Staff Writer Kate Alexander contributed to this report.