Gambling card games at Rosecroft faces legislative hurdles
Muse, Miller, push for gambling at south county track
A push by two prominent Prince George's County senators to allow poker, baccarat and other cards-based gambling at Rosecroft Raceway faces an uncertain outcome this month in the House of Delegates.
The Maryland Senate last week passed Senate Bill 1035, which would have voters in the state decide by referendum whether to allow card game gambling at the horse track off Route 414 in Fort Washington.
Still, delegates from the county are skeptical that the bill by Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach and Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington will pass their side of the State House.
"I think the odds of it coming out of the house are slim," said Del. Kris Valderrama (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington, who supports the gaming at Rosecroft, which is in her district.
Prince George's delegates voted down a different bill by Valderrama that would have allowed charity poker in the county for local fire departments, and said the Rosecroft gambit isn't likely to go over, either. The bill had support from just 12 of the 23 county delegates.
Gambling has been a controversial subject in the state for years. In 2008, after a decade of debates in the legislature, Maryland voters approved allowing slot machines at several Maryland racetracks in hopes of bringing in more revenue for the state. So far, no company has secured a deal to put the machines in use at five locations across the state, though Rosecroft is not one of them.
Many delegates say they want to implement slots before even considering other types of gaming.
"It's way too early to be expanding gambling when we haven't even worked out slots," said Del. Doyle Niemann (D-Dist. 47) of Mount Rainier.
But supporters say that card games could be a key to reviving Rosecroft, which once was a premier harness-racing track in the state in the 1950s. Though harness racing was discontinued at the track in 2009, the complex still employs more than 200 people.
"I'll support anything that keeps jobs there," said Muse, a pastor who says that the move is one of "desperation." "If you let it close, people will lose jobs and it will be another eyesore."
Muse's involvement in the bill this year marks a reversal from his earlier voting record. In 2008, the senator voted against holding the slots referendum and also opposed slots because on moral grounds.
Muse said last week that card games are different, since they often attract "high-stakes" players that have disposable income to gamble. His concern with slots is the "social issues" created by poor people sinking their household budgets into the machines with little chance of winning, he said.
"High-stakes cards actually deals with the social problems that we could have with slots," Muse said. "People who say [I'm hypocritical] are ignorant of the fact that there's vast difference between theology and sociology."
Calls to Rosecroft Raceway were not returned by press time.
Muse said that he and Miller plan to lobby House members to support the bill before the session ends in mid-April.
But local officials are already upset about the senator's push. At a March 23 council meeting, Councilman Eric C. Olson (D-Dist. 3) of College Park complained that the entire state gets to choose through referendum whether to allow card gambling in the county.
"We're just at the whim of the state. That's a little troubling," he said.
The County Council has not taken an official position on the bill yet, but several members don't want it.
"Deep down, I'm against it," said Councilwoman Marilynn M. Bland (D-Dist. 9) of Clinton.
Members of the House Ways & Means Committee will likely hold a hearing on Senate Bill 1035 in the next two weeks.
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