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The Baltimore Sun

First day of second special session off to rocky start

The first day of the second special legislative session this year involved a lot of reading, deciphering and senators making amendments for their districts.

Those who hoped the session revolving around a gambling bill — already a hot topic in Maryland — would last only two days will be sorely disappointed.

"If we accept this bill we will never be able to get the trust of private businesses again," Sen. Nancy Jacobs wrote in an e-mail Thursday afternoon. "We offered a deal, they invested millions, they brought the state great revenue and now we are screwing them to the wall."

If passed, Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislation would allow a sixth casino in the state to be built in Prince George's County by mid-2016 and would create three categories of state casinos with their own tax breaks.

The Baltimore Sun reports large facilities, such as Maryland Live and planned casinos in Baltimore City and Prince George's County, would have an effective tax rate of 56 percent once fully operating. This is 11 percentage points lower than the current rate of 67 percent.

The downside: the facilities would have to buy their own slot machines rather than rent them from the Maryland Lottery.

Hollywood Casino in Perryville — classified as a medium-size casino — would have a tax rate of 61 percent and would also have to purchase its machines.

Worcester County and the planned Allegany County casino would be "small," and both have a 57 percent tax rate.

The bill would also allow table games, something the majority of legislators support.

O'Malley told reporters Wednesday during an event that he is "sick" of the gambling issue and "just wants to get it behind us."

Jacobs, who represents District 34, doesn't agree with O'Malley's statements that a sixth casino would result in more jobs for in-state workers.

"They won't go to Marylanders because of deals already made with MGM and Prince George's County to use only high-paid union workers who mostly come from out of state, and they aren't minorities either," she wrote.

The senator, who also covers portions of Cecil County, is particularly concerned about how the bill could affect the Hollywood Casino in Perryville.

"Cecil County gets no tax break for its casino," Jacobs wrote. "How is that fair, even though the casino in Perryville has been losing almost 40 percent of its business since Maryland Live opened? That actually hurts the local people, not just the casino, as they see their impact dollars dry up."

She added that adding another casino wouldn't bring in more revenue to the state, but "just moves it around, making the ones we have very poor quality."

"Let's show some spine and get the ones [casinos] not yet built up and succeeding," Jacobs wrote. "We can do this in regular session."

On Wednesday, Cordish Companies called O'Malley's proposed legislation as "patently unfair" to existing casinos, according to The Sun.

Cordish owns the Maryland Live casino, which opened in June next to Arundel Mills mall, and, The Sun reports, makes about a million dollars a day with two-thirds of that revenue going to the state.

One hurdle O'Malley, a Democrat, will have to face is the division between parties, especially among the Democratic caucus.

The governor insists the bill "is about creating jobs and remaining competitive with other states."

Jacobs told The Sun Thursday morning before the session began that it won't be likely for the nine Republican senators who supported the gambling expansion in April to vote the same this time around.

She added that the Republic caucus would introduce 10 jobs bills that don't relate to gambling.

Sen. Barry Glassman described the 56-page bill as "very complex" and found it "really difficult to get through."

Around 2 p.m. Thursday, Glassman, who represents District 35, called from Annapolis to say the Senate was hearing the bill at the moment.

Senators, he continued, would need to come in Friday morning to do a second read and would work through the day with a possible third read in the evening before sending it to the House.

"It's all subject to how these votes go Friday," he explained. Glassman believes the special session could end Tuesday.

State legislators offered numerous amendments during the bill hearing Thursday afternoon.

Glassman said he would offer his own amendment to give American Legions and VFWs in Harford County five slot machines each as a way to earn revenue. He noted this is similar to a bill previous Harford legislators have attempted to get passed for years.

"I'm just trying to say, 'Listen, you guys are bending over backward for all these special interests, but you won't even give our VFWs five slot machines per unit and they're struggling to keep their buildings up as is,'" Glassman explained.

He'll also offer an amendment that could potentially have money from casinos go back to the counties to reimburse them for incurred teacher pension costs before it goes into the education trust fund.

Otherwise, Glassman said, "the way the bill is written there really is nothing in the bill that benefits our counties. There's no real reason to entertain the bill because it doesn't provide anything except take care of Baltimore City, Prince George's County and Anne Arundel County."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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