Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday argued the merits of his expanded gambling legislation, but he said he mainly wants it passed because he is “so sick of this.”
“This is not so much about what we want as what we need to get behind us,” O’Malley (D) told reporters. “I don’t know a single member of the General Assembly who ran for office wanting to deal with the issue of gaming year in and year out. For crying out loud, aren’t we all tired of this by now?”
O’Malley’s comments came on the eve of a special legislative session he has called to consider a plan to allow a new casino in Prince George’s County, as well as Las Vegas-style table games, such as black jack and roulette, at Maryland’s five existing slots locations.
Voters would also have to sign off on the expansions in November.
Gambling has been a festering issue in Annapolis for about a decade now. Brinksmanship over a possible expansion contributed to a legislative collapse of the final day of this year’s regular session, bringing down with it a major tax bill that leaders of both the House and Senate wanted to pass.
On Wednesday, O’Malley revealed that he had previously “congratulated” David Cordish, whose company owns Maryland’s largest casino, “for making a mess of the entire General Assembly.”
Cordish said later Wednesday that the episode described by O’Malley “never happened.”
Cordish argued during the regular session — and has continued to argue — that a new venue in Prince George’s would be unfair to Maryland Live!, his casino in neighboring Anne Arundel County, and that Maryland does not have enough gamblers for another facility.
O’Malley said he has not heard directly from Cordish since the release of his legislation on Tuesday night, but he added: “I’m sure that Mr. Cordish probably sends us something every day.”
In 2007, O’Malley brokered a legislative compromise that launched Maryland’s slots program, authorizing five locations around the state.
On Wednesday, O’Malley said it was probably a mistake not to have legalized table games in 2007. Since then, casinos in the surrounding states of Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have all added table games.
O’Malley said his new bill is intended to “maximize” the revenue the state receives from hosting gambling. He also defended a provision in the bill that provides some additional revenue to casino owners to compensate them for the competition that would come from Prince George’s.
Some lawmakers have argued that it’s wrong to effectively cut taxes on casino owners so soon after the General Assembly raised personal income taxes on six-figure earners.
“This is all about trying to maximize the bottom line for Maryland taxpayers,” O’Malley said.
Aides have said the bill is likely to net more than $200 million a year for the state after a Prince George’s facility opens in mid-2016.
O’Malley also touted the promised construction and permanent jobs that would result from a new casino and the addition of table games.
Beyond that, he said: “I am so sick of this issue, I just want to get it behind us. ... I’m hopeful and optimistic that the General Assembly also wants to move beyond this issue.”