Special Session on Maryland Gambling Begins Aug. 9

Gov. Martin O'Malley on Friday called for a special session next month to expand gambling in Maryland, saying it would put the state on track to create jobs, generate more state revenue and hopefully settle a difficult issue that derailed a budget agreement during the regular session last April.

O'Malley said the session will begin Aug. 9. Lawmakers will consider allowing table games like poker, which advocates say would keep Maryland competitive with neighboring states that have more gambling offerings. The governor said lawmakers also will decide whether to authorize a new casino near the nation's capital in Prince George's County. The casino could not be built there unless voters in that county approve -- an extra stipulation on top of the requirement for statewide voter approval.

“It's time now to act and time to put this issue behind us, so that we can move forward on the other important issues that confront us as a state,” O'Malley said.

O'Malley, a Democrat, said Maryland could reap an additional $100 million next year with the gambling expansion and even more in future years.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, said he believes the session can be completed quickly.

“We're going to work together,” said Miller, the Legislature's chief backer of gambling expansion. “Hopefully, we can get this done in a matter of days -- two or three days -- and it will go on the ballot in November, and I'm confident the people overwhelmingly ratify this because it's a win-win for the people of the state of Maryland.”

Maryland voters in 2008 approved a constitutional amendment authorizing slot machine gambling at five locations. It passed in every county and the city of Baltimore. So far, three casinos have opened. The other two are moving forward in Baltimore and in western Maryland at Rocky Gap State Park.

Gambling legislation faces its toughest hurdles in the House. However, Speaker Michael Busch said he is confident the legislation will succeed.

“Absolutely,” the Anne Arundel County Democrat said, when asked of the votes will be there. He added, “We will work on all the specifics of the legislation. We'll do that before we come into the special session. I feel confident that the votes will be there when we work our way through that process.”

O'Malley and the presiding officers were joined by Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who support the expansion.

“I feel confident that the citizens of Prince George's County will vote overwhelmingly for a sixth site because they understand the need for dollars, for jobs and for education and public safety,” Baker said.

Republicans have criticized the idea of holding a second special session this year at a cost to taxpayers of about $20,000 a day. They say adding games like roulette and craps to existing casinos and approving a new casino in Prince George's do not constitute an emergency requiring the governor to call 188 lawmakers back to Annapolis.

“As we have said before, the harrowing pressure cooker of a get-it-done-quick special session is not the place to debate an issue as complex as the expansion of gaming in Maryland,” House minority leader Anthony O'Donnell and minority whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said in a joint statement.

O'Malley said the state faced an emergency when the General Assembly adjourned in April without a budget plan in place. He called it, “kind of a low point in my service here.”

“I want to resolve this issue so we can move forward,” O'Malley said.

During a special session in May, lawmakers approved a budget deal that raised income taxes on people who make more than $100,000.

Several key components were not discussed in detail at the news conference, such as how the state would approach a potential change in its unusually high 67 percent tax rate. The governor said a bill would be available about a week before session.

MGM Resorts International wants to build an $800 million casino at National Harbor, next to the nation's capital. MGM has estimated the project would create 2,000 construction jobs and thousands of permanent jobs at the resort.

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