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Baltimore Delegation Meets on Gambling Expansion

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    Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Michael Busch on Wednesday proposed allocating some gambling revenue in a way to help offset losses that a Prince George's County casino could cause for Baltimore and Anne Arundel County.

    O'Malley, Busch and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake met with about half of the city's 18-member House delegation at City Hall for about 90 minutes behind closed doors. The proposal was made in hopes of allaying concerns Baltimore lawmakers have about how a casino at National Harbor near the nation's capital could hurt a planned casino in Baltimore.

    Details were sketchy about how the plan would work, but O'Malley told reporters after the meeting that mechanisms for holding Baltimore and Anne Arundel County harmless from the Prince George's casino were discussed.

    Busch said the plan involves putting extra money aside in the local impact component of the revenue split.

    “Obviously, with the addition of a third site, the local impact share would be impacted, and we believe we can take the money and put it into a collective pot of Prince George's, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore city, divide it up into percentages where Anne Arundel would get its full expectation of money and Baltimore city would get its full expectation of money -- where they are now,” Busch said.

    He added, “The whole idea is to hold Baltimore city and Anne Arundel County -- both of those counties -- harmless.”

    Delegates who spoke after the meeting sounded glad to hear that the concern was being considered. However, some said they wanted to see more details.

    Delegate Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, said he questions what the real impact will be.

    “This thing is all so murky, it really makes you feel kind of unclean,” Anderson said. “You need to take a shower when you get done because I think everybody is scratching everybody else's back, you know what I'm saying? Because, you can't really get the figures that you want.”

    O'Malley said he hopes to have a bill in writing by the end of the week for lawmakers to review.

    Anderson, who chairs the Baltimore delegation, said the delegation will review the written proposal and meet next Wednesday.

    Comments by delegates after the meeting suggested a breakthrough needed to reach a consensus was still a ways off.

    “It seemed to me that the governor and the House speaker are just starting their trek across the state of Maryland to talk to delegations,” Anderson said. “Clearly, they've come here. Clearly, they don't have the votes.”

    Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said many members of the delegation simply hadn't heard the details before Wednesday.

    “Some of us heard the details of these concepts or proposals for the first time, and I do believe generally that most people felt they understood more broadly the kind of proposal that the governor and the administration are working on to bring consensus on this,” McIntosh said.

    O'Malley wants to hold a special session this summer to allow table games such as poker and blackjack and a casino site in Prince George's. While there appears to be strong support in the General Assembly for table games at five casino sites currently allowed under the law, the additional casino has been a hard sell in the House of Delegates.

    MGM Resorts International wants to build an $800 million casino at National Harbor. However, the company says it would need Maryland to lower its high 67 percent tax rate on gambling revenue. That has run into opposition in the House.

    O'Malley and lawmakers are facing time constraints. That's because the proposal would require approval by Maryland voters, and there is an Aug. 20 deadline to approve ballot language for November's election.