House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) signaled Wednesday that his chamber intends to put its own stamp on gambling legislation it will advance during a special session that starts next week.
In a letter to fellow House Democrats, Busch outlined a series of steps he plans to use in coming days — both before and after the session starts next Thursday — to refine legislation from Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
The governor’s legislation is expected to allow a new casino in Prince George’s County, as well as Las Vegas-style table games at the state’s five other slots locations.
“As you know, there are a number of private interests impacted by proposed legislation,” Busch wrote. “As a caucus, we will focus on the public interest and ensuring the best product for the state. We will rely on the expertise and deliberations of the Ways & Means Committee to shape our ultimate work product.”
The Senate passed two bills during the regular legislative session — both of which died in the House — that allowed a Prince George’s casino and table games and authorized tax relief for existing casinos that would face new competition.
A similar plan was floated by a working group set up by O’Malley this spring.
In a separate letter this week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) told his members to expect a bill similar to the working group plan, which he said was similar to the Senate bills.
And Miller made clear he plans to move quickly.
After the session opens next Thursday morning, a Senate committee is expected to hold a hearing, setting up final passage of a bill the next day.
Busch outlined a slower walk in his chamber, with input from a variety of places in the House, including the Ways and Means Committee, which generally has jurisdiction over gambling bills.
The letter includes no specific amendments. Rather, Busch outlines several principles.
Those include “a full range of gaming opportunities and fair mitigation of losses to existing license holders.” Yet Busch also suggested the House will accept limited tax relief for private casino operators, writing: “Our overall goal must be to generate significant new revenue for the state.”
Busch also says the House will look at the possibility of legalizing Internet gaming for Maryland casino licensees. That provision was included in a wish list circulated this week by the Cordish Cos., owner of Maryland’s largest casino, which stands to lose the most from a Prince George’s facility, likely at National Harbor.
It’s unclear how much traction an Internet plan will get. Other operators with more national reach have been pursuing federal legislation on Internet gaming rather than a patchwork of state laws.