The secrecy surrounding a work group on expanded gambling in Maryland prompted howls of protest this week from a leading Republican lawmaker. But the group’s closed-door deliberations are “clearly” legal, according to a lawyer with the attorney general’s office.

The group, appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and legislative leaders, huddled for several hours out of public view Monday. Private conversations were continuing Tuesday, as members angled to develop a consensus plan on allowing a Prince George’s County casino and Las Vegas-style tables games at Maryland’s other slots venues.

Such meetings are permissible because the 11-member work group does not meet the definition of a “public body” under the State Open Meetings Law, wrote Dan Friedman, a lawyer who advises the legislature, in a letter responding to a complaint Monday by Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil).

Under Maryland law, a “public body” can be created in a number of ways, including through an executive order of the governor. But an executive order was not used to establish the gambling work group.

A “public body” also exists if a governor appoints a group that consists of “at least two individuals not employed by the state.” The gambling work group includes only one such individual — its chairman, John Morton III. All other members are legislators or O’Malley administration officials.

“The Open Meetings Act simply does not apply to this work group,” Friedman wrote.

He also noted that any decision by the work group will not be binding on the public. Expanding gambling would require both a vote by the legislature and a ballot measure approved by Maryland voters.

Pipkin said Tuesday that he plans to sponsor legislation to tighten the Open Meetings Law.

“There is something inherently wrong with shutting the public out of deliberations of significant importance,” he said.