State commission asks Md. legislators to consider Las Vegas-style table games

Blackjack could be on the table in Maryland, as a state commission wants lawmakers to consider allowing Las Vegas-style table games.
Blackjack could be on the table in Maryland, as a state commission wants lawmakers to consider allowing Las Vegas-style table games. (Cathleen Allison/associated Press)
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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 23, 2010

Even before Maryland opens its first slots parlor, a state commission is suggesting that lawmakers consider allowing Las Vegas-style table games at some point.

The recommendation was among several adopted Friday by the commission, whose primary job is awarding the five slot-machine licenses Maryland voters authorized in 2008.

Donald C. Fry, the commission's chairman, said that since the measure passed in a referendum more than two years ago, the surrounding states of West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania have all moved toward legalization of table games.

The Maryland "legislature should at least look at that if we're going to be competitive," Fry said. "The world is changing around them, and they need to be aware of that."

The commission did not suggest a timeframe, and Fry said he does not expect the General Assembly to approve table games during the 90-day legislative session that began last week. The commission's recommendations will be forwarded to legislative leaders and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in a letter.

Maryland lawmakers spent several years debating the legalization of slot machines and by a narrow margin in 2007 approved putting the issue to voters. Any expansion of gaming in Maryland would require another statewide referendum.

D. Bruce Poole, a commission member, said the suggestion of table games would be "a bombshell in some quarters." But Poole said the state should welcome the additional revenue and jobs that would accompany full-blown casinos.

The seven-member commission has awarded three of the five slots licenses to operators in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties. The Cecil and Worcester locations could open this year. A slots parlor at Arundel Mills mall in Anne Arundel is projected to open late next year.

The commission said Friday that it will accept new bids in coming months to operate the remaining two sites, at locations in Baltimore and Allegany County.

Last month, the commission rejected a bid for a facility in Baltimore at a site just south of the stadium where the National Football League's Ravens play. Fry said the commission will wait for the resolution of a protest that has been filed by the bidder before seeking new applicants. That could take several months.

The commission received no qualified bidders for the Allegany site last year.

On Friday, the panel suggested several changes designed to make the location more attractive to operators. By law, the slots parlor must be on state-owned land adjacent to the Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort. The changes include allowing the slots parlor to be physically connected to the lodge, which current law prevents.

Fry also announced Friday the resignation of Robert R. Neall, a former state senator and one of the seven commission members.

Neall said that Venable, the law firm that employs his wife, had been retained by Simon Property Group, owner of Arundel Mills. Last month, the commission awarded a license to Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. to operate slots at the mall, a move Simon supported.

A spokesman for Simon said Venable was retained after the license was awarded.

Neall said he resigned from the commission "out of an abundance of caution" to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

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