Update, 3:25 p.m.: An aide to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) confirmed that she plans to meet Wednesday morning with delegates from the city to discuss an expanded gambling proposal.
Caesars Entertainment, which is expected to get a state license this month to operate a Baltimore casino, has supported earlier versions of an expanded gambling plan that allowed a Prince George’s facility. Despite the additional competition, Caesars has said it likes other aspects of those plans, including the legalization of table games and lower tax rates for operators.
Still, some Baltimore delegates remain wary of the impact of a Prince George’s casino on one in their home jurisdiction. Rawlings-Blake has pledged her support for O’Malley’s efforts to hold a special session on expanded gambling.
Update, 12:20 p.m.: O’Malley told reporters that he had “a good meeting” with Busch and Miller about a possible gambling expansion.
“I think we’re making some progress,” the governor said at a late-morning event in Cockeysville. “I think there is still a strong opportunity to resolve this issue, and to do it sooner rather than later.”
O’Malley said there are “lots of conversations happening” among House members and House leaders.
Separately, Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil) blasted the idea of allowing a gaming commission to set tax rates on casinos.
“This is one of the worst and most cowardly policy decisions I have ever heard,” Pipkin said in a news release. “And it rides roughshod over the authority and responsibilities of the state’s law-making branch of government.”
Maryland leaders agreed Tuesday morning to spend a few more days assessing whether there are enough votes in the House of Delegates to pass an expanded gambling plan in a special legislative session this summer.
“There are people that need to be asked,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), a strong proponent of the plan, told reporters following a closed-door breakfast meeting hosted by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). “We need some elbow grease, we need some hard work.”
In recent weeks, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has repeatedly warned it will be more difficult in his chamber to pass a plan that includes allowing a full-fledged Prince George’s casino, most likely at National Harbor, and Las-Vegas style table games at Maryland’s five existing slots sites.
Busch told reporters the meeting was positive but offered little elaboration.
“We came, really, to no conclusion today,” he said, adding: “The breakfast was delicious.”
O’Malley, who has been pushing for a special session, left the governor’s mansion in Annapolis without speaking to reporters. He was running late for an unrelated event in the Baltimore area.
On Monday, O’Malley said there is “a little better than a 50-50 chance” of calling a special session.
That assessment followed a meeting with the mayor of Baltimore and the county executives of Montgomery and Prince George’s County, whom O’Malley has enlisted to help build support among House members from their jurisdictions.
On Tuesday, Miller offered his public support for allowing a yet-to-be-formed gaming commission — rather than the legislature — to set future tax rates on casinos. That has been among the issues that have stalled deliberations on a special session.
“That’s certainly on the table, and I think that it makes sense, quite frankly,” Miller said. “You should have economists and accountants coming back with the rates.”
Last month, House leaders cited concerns about tax rates as the chief reason they opposed authorizing a work-group plan that included a sixth casino. The three House members on the work group balked at endorsing the plan if tax breaks were given to casino owners.
The five O’Malley appointees and three senators who were part of the group supported a plan that lowered rates on some casinos to compensate for the additional competition that a Prince George’s casino would generate.
The expansion plan has been vigorously opposed by the owner of Maryland Live!, the state’s largest casino, which opened last month in neighboring Anne Arundel County.
Any expanded gambling plan would require approval by statewide voters in addition to the legislature. O’Malley has been pushing for a special session this summer so that voters may decide in November.
If lawmakers do not take up a gambling package until January, when they return for their regular session, the earliest a measure could appear on the ballot would be 2014.