The Washington Post

Should gambling be on a Maryland special session agenda?

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, center, is flanked by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch during a hearing last year on congressional redistricting. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

But what about going forward?

In separate interviews last week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch offered very different thoughts about whether a gaming bill should be part of a possible special session to finish their work.

Miller (D-Calvert) would like for one to be part of the mix. The bill that died Monday night called for a statewide referendum on allowing a Prince George’s County casino and Las Vegas-style table games at Maryland’s five other previously authorized slots venues.

The problem with waiting, Miller argued, is the cumbersome rules that lawmakers put in motion in 2007 for major gambling expansions in Maryland.

As part of a constitutional amendment ratified voters in 2008, state leaders are required to get voter approval before either adding a new casino or expanding the kinds of games available at existing ones.

That means that if a gaming bill doesn’t pass soon, it will be impossible to put the issue to voters this November. Lawmakers would then be looking at the next statewide election, in November 2014, to pose the question — during which time the surrounding states of Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will continue to have more robust gambling programs.

“This really is a referendum bill,” Miller said, adding that legislators would have other details to work out later.

Busch (D-Anne Arundel) offered a different take. He said that the primary reason legislators would come into a special session is to pass a tax package that died on Monday night. Without passage of the package, more than $500 million in cuts to education and other planned spending would take effect on July 1.

Busch pointed out that some Marylanders would pay higher income taxes under provisions of the tax package that negotiators for both chambers had accepted Monday.

Meanwhile, the gaming bill that died Monday night sought to compensate private casino owners by reducing the share of slots proceeds they must turn over to the state.

Cutting taxes on casino owners at the same time legislators are raising them on citizens simply looks bad, Busch said.

“It becomes problematic, in my mind, when you’re asking Joe Average to pay more money,” Busch said. “I’m just being honest here.”

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



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