Several provisions in the bill are intended to compensate owners of the state’s five slots venues for business they would likely lose to a Prince George’s facility. Committee members suggested Tuesday that the legislation goes too far.
“We’re not in this to fatten the operators’ pockets,” Del. Frank S. Turner (D-Howard) said. “We need to make some major changes if we’re going to pass this bill.”
Turner, who chairs a subcommittee with jurisdiction over gaming, later told reporters that the panel might instead pass a bill that allows only existing slots operators to add Las Vegas-style table games at their facilities.
That sentiment was echoed by Del. Sheila E. Hixson (D-Montgomery), chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee.
The posture of House leaders seemed to diminish the chances of any bill passing both chambers by Monday, when the legislature is scheduled to adjourn its 90-day session.
The bill that passed the Senate would be the largest expansion of gambling in Maryland since lawmakers launched the state’s slots program in 2007.
The Senate bill would invite competitive bids for a casino in a swath of western Prince George’s that includes National Harbor, the mixed-use development on the banks of the Potomac River; and Rosecroft Raceway, the recently reopened harness track in Fort Washington. The legislation would also allow table games at all six Maryland gambling sites.
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), the sponsor of the Senate bill, told House members that his chamber deliberately included several “sweeteners” to make the bill more attractive to existing casino owners.
Sharing the take
Casino owners would be allowed to keep 90 percent of proceeds from table games, such as blackjack and roulette — a share far higher than in surrounding states. Also, the share of slots proceeds retained by operators would increase, to 48 percent from the 33 percent in existing state law. Part of that money would be used to buy or lease slot machines, a cost currently incurred by the state.
Those changes could result in an additional $600 million flowing to casino owners, including the operator of a Prince George’s facility, by 2016, according to an analysis released Tuesday by legislative staff.
By 2016, only about an additional $8.5 million would accrue to a state education trust fund established when the slots program was launched. The bill mandates that another $36.5 million be spent to revise a state education aid formula that would help Prince George’s and less wealthy counties.
And the state would save another $111 million a year by 2016 because it would no longer be buying or leasing slot machines.