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Md. bill will seek approval of casino table games, slots at Rosecroft Raceway

Maryland voters could be asked to decide next year whether to allow Las Vegas-style table games at the state's slots casinos - including a new location in Prince George's County - in a bid to be more competitive with surrounding states.

However, the two powerful Democrats who preside over the General Assembly are at odds over whether to attempt to authorize a referendum during the current 90-day legislative session.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), one of the legislature's leading gambling proponents, plans to support a bill that would seek voter approval for games including blackjack, roulette and craps at the state's five existing slots sites.

The bill, which is still being drafted, would also add a sixth location: the now-shuttered Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington.

The prospect of expanded gambling has long divided Prince George's lawmakers and community leaders - a reality Miller downplayed when discussing Rosecroft.

"We're not talking about Snow White's farm," said Miller, whose Senate district includes part of Prince George's. "There's been gambling on horse racing there for decades."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, however, told reporters that while he expects robust debate over table games this session, he sees no reason to resolve the issue before lawmakers return in January 2012.

"What's the urgency of this year?" Busch asked, noting that the earliest a statewide vote on table games could occur is November 2012.

Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have all put table games in place in recent years.

Under the terms of a ballot measure Maryland voters approved in 2008, state leaders seeking to expand gambling beyond slots must go back to voters.

The 2008 measure authorized 15,000 machines at locations in Baltimore and in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties.

Busch said he did not know whether there would be enough votes in his chamber to add table games, and he said he has not polled the Prince George's delegation to see whether its members are more amenable to gambling than they were four years ago.

Busch suggested that House and Senate leaders work with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) over the summer and fall to reach a consensus on how to proceed.

O'Malley has said the state should focus on opening its five slots locations before debating table games - and that remains his position, a spokesman said Tuesday.

So far, only two of Maryland's slots casinos have opened: a 1,500-machine facility in Cecil and a 750-machine site at Ocean Downs racetrack in Worcester.

On Thursday, O'Malley and other dignitaries are planning to take part in a groundbreaking for the state's largest envisioned casino: a 4,750-machine facility at Arundel Mills mall in Anne Arundel.

Table games tend not to be as lucrative for casinos as slots, in large part because games like blackjack and craps require more employees and security to operate. But the addition of such games tends to lure more people to casinos, and their operation creates jobs often filled by people in the community.

Last year, the Maryland Senate passed a bill to allow betting on card games at Rosecroft, but the measure died in the House.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), who represents the part of the county that includes Rosecroft, said he would like to see a similar provision in any gambling legislation passed by the legislature this year.

Muse said card games "don't come with many of the same social ills as slots."

Muse and others said they will be closely watching the results of a round of bidding Friday on the bankrupt track that is expected to produce a new owner with plans to reopen the facility.

Among those that have expressed interest are Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and Penn National Gaming, which operates the casino in Cecil.

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


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