House panel approves gambling bill -- Gazette.Net







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A House panel gave preliminary approval late Monday to a plan to expand gambling, after a day of drawn-out hearings and numerous proposed amendments.

The subcommittee that handles gambling issues met off-and-on throughout the afternoon to discuss changes to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan which includes provisions to allow table games at existing casinos, authorizes a sixth casino to be located in Prince George’s County, and modifies the percent of revenues casinos can keep before the full Ways & Means Committee gave it the green light later that night.

“The estimate is that this entire bill will produce … over $200 million for the state,” said House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg. If the economic recovery slowed, those revenues would be valuable, he said.

Amendments included a measure banning a casino operator from running a temporary, table-games only facility until the full slots casino opens; allowing the new Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover to keep an additional 8 percent of its revenues in exchange for taking over the ownership of slot machines from the state; and allowing lawmakers to make recommendations on who the governor appoints to a new commission that will oversee the state’s gambling program.

O’Malley’s bill suggested allowing some of the state’s casinos to keep another 6 percent of their proceeds for taking over ownership of slot machines, a move expected to save the state millions of dollars.

Currently, casino operators can keep 33 percent of their gross gambling revenues.

The committee also modified how much additional revenue Maryland Live! and a planned Baltimore City casino would get to keep to compensate for increased competition from a Prince George’s facility. Maryland Live! would keep an additional 8 percent and be able to petition the state for an additional 2 percent when a sixth casino opens. The Baltimore facility would keep an additional 7 percent and be able to petition for another 3 percent.

House members also struck a provision that would have let the operators of a Prince George’s casino open a temporary casino with table games prior to the opening of their main facility with slot machines.

The bill, which was adopted by the Senate last week, will be taken up by the full chamber Tuesday, but the long delays between the subcommittee’s approval of various amendments fueled speculation that there weren’t enough votes for the measure to pass the House.

Republican committee members including Dels. Kathy Afzali (R-Dist. 4A) of Middletown and Andrew Serafini (R-Dist. 2A) of Hagerstown - objected to the speed with which the bill and the amendments were moving through the session.

Serafini also said he was worried that another casino would oversaturate the state’s gambling market, which has been a major concern of the owners of Maryland Live!

Delegate Frank Turner (D-Dist. 13) of Columbia, said after the committee voted that there were still elements of the bill he wanted to tweak, but that he thought the measure as amended was ultimately fair for all casino operators.

“Eventually, we’ve got to get to a vote,” Turner said.