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Maryland Politics
Posted at 06:19 PM ET, 07/25/2012

Gambling expansion special session likely to be called for next month, Busch says

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to announce within days that he is calling lawmakers back to Annapolis next month to try to pass an expanded gambling plan that includes a Prince George’s County casino, House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Wednesday.

“I believe the governor has made that determination to go forward,” Busch (D-Anne Arundel) told reporters following a private meeting with Democratic leaders of his chamber.


Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) (Marvin Joseph - WASHINGTON POST)

An aide to O’Malley confirmed afterward that he intends to announce a special session as early as Thursday.

The plan to be weighed in the special session is also expected to allow table games, such as black jack and roulette, at Maryland’s five existing slots site and provide some tax relief to those facilities affected by the additional competition in Prince George’s.

The new facility would most likely rise at National Harbor, the 300-acre mini-city on the banks of the Potomac River. Other locations nearby would also be permitted to bid, however, Busch told reporters.

Any expansion legislation passed in the session would also require voter approval in November.

Though an expanded gambling plan enjoys broad support in the Senate, it has been a tough sell in the House of Delegates — and rounding up the needed votes could still provide a challenge for O’Malley.

“I don’t know how the governor would know if the votes are there,” said Del. Curtis Anderson (D-Baltimore), who is the chairman of his city’s delegation in the House. “It’s a big gamble, pardon the pun.”

Aides to O’Malley have said in recent days that he is willing to risk failure in a special session to order to put the issue behind him for the remaining two years of his term.

Plans for a Prince George’s casino have collapsed twice in recent months, both times with resistance coming from the House. On the final night of this year’s regular legislative session, a Senate-approved bill stalled in the House amid brinksmanship between the two chambers over budget bills.

A work group convened by O’Malley subsequently floated a similar plan that was sunk when three House members who participated withheld their support, citing a concern about cutting taxes on casino owners so soon after raising them on six-figure earners. The five O’Malley appointees and three senators on the panel supported the plan.

Since then, O’Malley — who stood on the sidelines during the regular-session debate, calling gambling a distraction — has redoubled efforts to pass a bill. The issue has strained his relationship with Busch, who has shown limited enthusiasm for the issue.

The notion of a Prince George’s casino is vigorously opposed by the owner of Maryland Live!, the state’s largest casino, which opened last month in neighboring Anne Arundel County. The Cordish Cos., which built and operates the facility, argues that a National Harbor site would unfairly cut into its expected share of the Washington market.

Just Tuesday, the chairman and managing partner of the company spent two hours pleading their case in a private meeting Busch.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has been among the biggest supporters of bringing a casino to his jurisdiction. Baker, who opposed slots during his days as a delegate in Annapolis, continues to tout the expected share of revenue has county would get from the facility, as well as the hundreds of jobs he says it would create.

By  |  06:19 PM ET, 07/25/2012

 
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