- The Enterprise
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The Maryland General Assembly gave final approval early Wednesday to a plan to allow a major casino in Prince George’s County.
Shortly before midnight, the House of Delegates voted 71-58 in favor of the bill of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), which also allows Las Vegas-style table games at the state’s existing casinos and makes adjustments to the tax rate on gambling revenues to compensate casino operators for additional competition and costs.
The Senate, which approved the bill this past week, signed off on several amendments from the House early Wednesday.
Maryland’s constitution requires the expansion of gambling to be approved by voters, but the Prince George’s casino will be built only if a majority of county voters support the measure at the polls in November.
“I’m very, very pleased,” said County Executive Rushern Baker III (D), who has proposed putting a major destination resort and casino at the waterfront National Harbor complex in Oxon Hill. “This puts us on the way not only to creating jobs in Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland, but also revenue for both the state and the county.”
The most important aspect of the bill was that it left the final decision to county voters, Baker said.
As amended by the House, the bill is projected to net an additional $200 million per year to the state’s Education Trust Fund by 2019, according to a state fiscal analysis.
Other key provisions of the bill include:
ź Allowing a sixth casino, to be located in Prince George’s County, with 3,000 slot machines. The casino wouldn’t be allowed to open until of July 1, 2016, or 30 months after a planned facility in Baltimore opens, whichever comes first.
ź Allowing Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover and a planned casino in Baltimore to keep as much as 10 percent more of slots revenues once a Prince George’s casino goes online. Baltimore and Hollywood Casino in Perryville also would keep an additional 6 percent of their revenues in exchange for taking ownership of slot machines, which currently are owned or leased by the state; Maryland Live! would keep 8 percent.
ź Barring the owners of a Prince George’s casino from running a temporary table games casino until the permanent facility opens.
ź Prohibiting casino owners and license applicants from making campaign contributions to nonfederal candidates or campaign finance entities in the state.
ź Creates a state commission to oversee the state’s lottery and gambling operations. Members would be appointed by the governor, but lawmakers would provide recommendations.
Fifteen Prince George’s delegates voted to support the bill, but House Delegation Chair Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s) was not among them. She urged the House to reject the measure, which she said was being rushed through without addressing numerous concerns from delegates.
“The devil takes a hand in what is done in haste,” Griffith said, reciting a proverb. “If we can’t do it right, don’t do it yet.” Griffith added her career as a social worker gave her an understanding of the social ills that accompany gambling.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) of Lusby denounced the plan, which he said cut taxes on billionaire casino owners shortly after lawmakers had raised taxes on working Marylanders.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) said the bill was a “win-win” for Maryland that would both raise revenues and create jobs.
But there now could be a fierce ad campaign between MGM Resorts International, which wants to build a casino at National Harbor, and Penn National Gaming, which owns Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington and wants to put a casino there, Miller said. “It’s going to be hand-to-hand combat,” he joked.
Floor debate was expected to begin in the House at 2 p.m. Tuesday, but was delayed for more than two hours, even though many delegates had been present at their desks or waiting in the nearby lounge. The delay fueled speculation that House leadership still was cutting deals to ensure the gambling bill had enough votes to pass.
When the House eventually convened, leadership accepted one amendment that will allow pull-tab gambling machines at some veterans’ organizations west of the Chesapeake Bay. Slots already are allowed at such organizations on the Eastern Shore.
A similar amendment was raised by Republican Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick) in a House subcommittee Monday, but it was not accepted; O’Donnell suggested on the floor Tuesday afternoon that the measure only had been adopted to persuade delegates to support the broader bill.