One, a woman in her 80s, was headed home to Baltimore because she wasn’t feeling well. The other, who is undergoing chemotherapy, was rumored to have left the State House and headed to the hospital.
“All of a sudden, on a very close vote, you’re down two votes,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
The bill, which calls for a statewide vote on whether to allow the new Prince George’s County casino as well as table games at Maryland’s other authorized slots sites, passed shortly before midnight with 71 votes — the bare number needed.
About a half-hour later, the Senate — a chamber far more friendly to gambling legislation — signed off on House changes and sent the legislation to O’Malley (D), who had been unusually hands-on in recent days pushing for its passage.
O’Malley signed the bill Wednesday morning in a relaxed fashion that belied the whirlwind of the previous 24 hours, during which House leaders cajoled members, traded favors and sought to balance the desires of lawmakers from jurisdictions with competing interests.
“It was like a game of pick-up sticks,” said Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George’s), the House’s No. 2 vote counter. “You have to be careful if you move one, the rest don’t come crashing down.”
While the stakes were high for gaming companies that operate in Maryland, there was a lot riding on the outcome for both O’Malley and Busch, too.
A similar bill collapsed on the final night of this year’s regular session. Now lawmakers were back in Annapolis, in a special session called by O’Malley, to try again. A similar outcome would have proven a major embarrassment for both men.
Busch, who has presided over the House for a decade, longer than any other speaker in Maryland history, had pulled out tough votes before. In February, a same-sex marriage bill cleared the House with just one vote to spare.
“I knew it would be a struggle to get there, but I was confident we would get there in the end,” Busch said Wednesday.
They weren’t quite there when the day began.
Busch pulled his Democratic delegates together shortly after 11 a.m. for a closed-door caucus, during which members were walked through a PowerPoint presentation. For many, it was the first time they saw details of the bill as amended Monday by a House committee.
A headline in the local Annapolis paper, the Capital, was already causing consternation: “Maryland Live! wins big under House bill.”
That referred to additional concessions the House committee granted to the state’s largest casino, as well as to one planned in Baltimore, for the new competition that would come with a Prince George’s gambling venue. All told, the two other casinos would get to keep roughly $30 million more a year in revenue than under a bill passed by the Senate.