A majority of the Prince George’s County Council, whose members have been closely divided about bringing gambling to the county, said Tuesday they back legislation pending in the General Assembly that would allow voters to decide if they want a full-fledged casino in the county and add Las Vegas-style table games to Maryland’s five other slots venues.
As the Maryland General Assembly speeds towards the scheduled conclusion of the legislative session at midnight Monday, the bill is facing tough questions from members of the House, including the chairman of the Prince George’s delegation, Del. Melony Griffith (D).
The head of the county council is also opposed to the bill, but six of the council’s nine members, led by Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro); have written to legislative leaders outlining their support. At the same time, several members of the county’s House delegation in Annapolis, are circulating a letter among their members backing the bill.
The letters align the lawmakers with County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who has mounted an intense campaign to win support for the bill in the General Assembly before it adjourns next week.
They also shed light on a growing fissure on the council and among the 23 members of the county’s House delegation. Three council members — Chairman Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale), vice-chairman Eric Olson (D-College Park) and Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel) remain opposed to gaming. But Franklin gathered support from five council members — Will Campos, Derrick Leon Davis, Obie Patterson, Karen Toles, and Ingrid Turner, all Democrats.
Late Tuesday, they sent letters to General Assembly leaders outlining their support. They asked legislators to modify the bill so that the county would not have to wait for the casino to be built before receiving a $13 million payment pledged in the legislation to resolve a longstanding tax inequity.
In an email late Tuesday, Harrison said the position of the council had not changed, and that the council remains opposed to the bill, but also supports sending the issue to a referendum, were the bill to pass.
Late last month, the entire council sent a lengthy letter saying it was opposed to the bill, and added a long list of issues that would have to be resolved before the council could back it. That letter sparked an intense effort by Baker and some county lawmakers in Annapolis to try to convey that in general, county lawmakers are supportive of the casino measure.
Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), a vice-chairman of the House delegation, is among those circulating the letter in the House delegation.. She said she remains “torn” about gaming and thinks it would be best if the voters decide.