O’Malley puts odds of gambling session at 50-50


Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

“I would very much like to get the lingering issues around gaming resolved,” O’Malley told reporters in Ocean City, where he was speaking to a gathering of the Maryland Municipal League and hosting a fundraiser to benefit the campaign to uphold the state’s same-sex marriage law.

O’Malley’s stated resolve came a week after a work group he set up failed to reach a consensus on a gambling plan and recommended against holding a special session. On Tuesday, O’Malley continued to blame members of the House of Delegates, who dissented from recommendations endorsed by the rest of the group, which also included state senators and members of his administration.

“The obstruction is the House on this issue,” O’Malley said, adding that he needs to get a better sense of whether the three delegates on the work group reflected the broader will of the chamber. “I need to now quickly reach out ... to take the full measure of the House.”

The work group recommendations included authorizing a sixth Maryland casino, most likely at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, and Las Vegas-style table games at the state’s five existing slots sites. Both pieces would be subject to voter approval in November.

House members said they would only agree to a sixth site if the state maintained its existing 67 percent tax rate on casino owners. Other members of the work group endorsed lowering the rate on some casinos by at least 5 percentage points to compensate for the additional competition fro a Prince George's facility.

O’Malley said he could not envision pushing a plan that looked much different than the work group recommendations. He dismissed the possibility of introducing a bill that would allow tables games at existing sites but not permit a new casino in Prince George’s.

Doing that, O’Malley said, would be unfair to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), a major booster of a casino at National Harbor, who has sought an up-or-down vote on the idea.

“I think he’s owed that courtesy,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said such a plan would solidify the opposition of other casino owners to additional competition in future years. “It would only dig the heels of existing site owners in deeper,” he said.

O’Malley also expressed concern that Caesar’s Entertainment could back off its plans to build a casino in downtown Baltimore if they are not allowed to include table games.

O’Malley has advertised the week of July 9 for a possible special session on gambling. He said Friday that the date could slip if it takes longer to build consensus

The governor’s comments followed a sparsely attended fundraiser at an Ocean City restaurant to benefit Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group leading efforts to uphold the state’s same-sex marriage law in an expected November referendum.

Only about a dozen people appear to have attended the event, which was co-hosted by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), whose relationship with O’Malley has been strained by the gambling issue. Organizers said many people contributed money who did not attend the event, which had an advertised costs of $1,000.

During his address to the Maryland Municipal League, O’Malley plugged his continuing efforts to boost transportation funding, acknowledging his failure in the last legislative session to apply the sales tax to gasoline.

“I haven’t given up, and I have the scars to prove it.” O’Malley said. ”I left a lot of blood on the battlefield, but I haven’t dropped the flag.”

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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