Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) met with leaders of three of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions Monday as part of a continuing effort to pressure leaders of the House of Delegates to agree to a special legislative session on expanded gambling.
“I think there is broad consensus to be had here,” O’Malley said following a meeting with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D).
All three are supporters of a plan to allow a full-fledged casino in Prince George’s, most likely at National Harbor, and Las Vegas-style table games at Maryland’s five existing slots sites. All three also lead jurisdictions with large numbers of delegates whose votes would be key to the outcome of a special session.
In a bit of theater, after their meeting with O’Malley in the State House, the three local leaders walked down to the office of House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) to let him know their position. Busch was not around at the time, and aides indicated afterward that he was not immediately available to the media.
While O’Malley said he appreciated the support of Baker, Leggett and Rawlings-Blake, he also kept the focus on Busch, saying prospects for a special session would depend on whether the House “coalesces around their leader.” There is already broad support in the Senate.
O’Malley said he thinks progress is being made, but he added that he had been wrong a few weeks ago about the outcome of a work group that examined the issue of expanded gambling.
Five O’Malley appointees to the group and three state senators all agreed to a plan that included a Prince George’s casino and the legalization of table games. But the plan was shelved because three House members withheld their support at the group’s final meeting.
“I also thought progress was being made right up until the goal line when the House members pulled and walked off the field and took off their helmets,” O’Malley said.
House members on the work group said they would only agree to a Prince George’s casino if the current tax rate of 67 percent on casino owners remained in place. Other members of the group made a case for lowering the rates on at least some casinos to account for the additional competition that would come with a sixth venue in Maryland.
The owners of Maryland Live!, which opened last month in Anne Arundel County, have been vocal opponents of allowing a Prince George’s site, which they argue would unfairly cut into their market.
O’Malley said again Monday that he is comfortable with leaving decisions about future tax rates to a not-yet-formed gambling commission rather than the legislature.
He said that provision was part of a “House alternative” on expanded gambling that could be the basis of a compromise moving forward. Afterward, several State House aides said that while O’Malley and Busch have discussed various ideas, no single alternative plan has been put forward on paper.
Baker, a vocal advocate of a Prince George’s casino, sounded optimistic about a plan passing in a special session.
“I think we’re there, quite honestly,” Baker said. “It’s going to be difficult, but it can be done.”
O’Malley put the odds of a special session at “a little better than a 50-50 chance,” slightly more favorable than he did Friday.
Neither Leggett nor Rawlings-Blake spoke to the media following Monday’s meeting.
In addition to legislative approval, statewide voters would also have to give their blessing to a Prince George’s casino or the addition of table games at other sites.
O’Malley is scheduled to meet Tuesday about gambling with Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).
Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), a former Prince George’s delegate, has also spoken out in recent days about his support for a special session. In a letter published Friday by the Gazette, Brown wrote: “Marylanders deserve to have their say in the voting booth this fall in order to decide the issue democratically and help us make a clear and responsible plan for our state going forward.”