As leaders in Annapolis ponder the scope of a possible special legislative session, the heads of two of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions are watching for an opportunity to ramp up their push for a state gambling bill.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) made the case Monday that the issue be put on the table if the legislature returns in coming weeks to continue work on next year’s state budget.
The workload for a potential session will be on the agenda Tuesday morning at a planned breakfast meeting among Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the two presiding officers of the General Assembly.
Both O’Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) have been lukewarm to the idea of reopening the gaming debate, which they blame for the collapse of a revenue package on the final night of the 90-day session. O’Malley called the issue a “silly bomb” in an interview and on Twitter late last week.
Baker is promoting a different view.
“Gaming is a revenue issue, not only for Prince George’s County ... but also for the state,” Baker said Monday morning in a television interview on Fox 5, during which he also touted the revenue potential for a casino at National Harbor. “I think it’s a legitimate issue, and we need to deal with it.”
Rawlings-Blake said that focus on a revenue package should come first, but she also supports work on a gambling bill in a special session, spokesman Ryan O’Doherty said Monday.
“The Mayor supports taking up gaming to help spur job creation and increase revenue for the Education Trust Fund,” O’Doherty said, referring to the state account to which most gambling proceeds flow.
A bill that died on April 9, the final night of the legislative session, called for a statewide referendum on allowing a full-fledged Prince George’s casino and adding Las Vegas-style tables games at Maryland’s five previously authorized slots sites, including one planned in downtown Baltimore.
Baker and Rawlings-Blake were not able to convince all delegates from their jurisdiction to support the bill.
The legislation was strongly opposed by the Cordish Cos., the developer of a casino it plans to open in June in Anne Arundel County.
Joe Weinberg, president of Cordish, said it would be “insane” to put another large-scale casino in neighboring Prince George’s. Such a facility, he argued, would cut significantly into the customer base of Maryland Live!, his company’s casino at Arundel Mills mall, which is counting on attracting gamblers from Virginia and the District.
“I don’t think one individual business owner should stop the county and the state from bringing in revenue,” Baker said during Monday’s television interview.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) is a solid proponent of passing a gambling bill during a special session.
In a letter Friday to O’Malley and Busch, Miller said the issue should not be connected to budget talks but added: “It is foolish to deny Maryland locations the ability to offer table games just like our neighboring states and to refuse to permit a sixth site which we know to be the best location on the East Coast with most of its revenues coming from out-of-state visitors.”
If lawmakers do not return and pass a revenue package, more than $500 million in cuts to education and other planned spending will take effect July 1. Republicans have advocated letting the cuts take effect.