The top issues in the session were expected to be opening the state to table games, whether to permit a sixth state-licensed casino in Prince George's County and how much to tax various forms of gambling.
Cordish, who has bitterly fought the entry of a casino to the south of his Arundel Mills location, outlined a series of demands this week that could — if met by the legislature — dampen his opposition. Among them: giving him permission to offer gambling over the Internet and taxing it at 10 percent — far less than the 67 percent tax on slot machine revenue generated at Maryland casinos.
Kindt called Cordish's proposed 10 percent rate "a joke."
"He must think the Maryland legislature is filled with suckers and rubes," Kindt said. "A 10 percent rate is positively ridiculous."
Deschenaux said legislative analysts have no estimate of the revenue potential of Internet gambling and are unlikely to come up with one in time for the special session. He said Delaware went forward with its program without such an estimate.
Though Maryland legislative committees have held extensive hearings over the years about other gambling issues, Deschenaux said lawmakers have not taken an in-depth look at the issues raised by Internet gambling.
John Morton III, who chaired a work group appointed by O'Malley in May to conduct a study of gambling expansion, said the panel talked about Internet gambling very briefly as something that could become popular in the future. But Morton said there's no reason the legislature shouldn't take up the issue now.
James Karmel, a history professor at Harford Community College and a gambling industry analyst, said it's not surprising that the Internet issue has surfaced in Maryland's debate. He said it makes sense from Cordish's point of view.
"It could really offset some of the revenue loss from adding a National Harbor casino," he said. The National Harbor development is viewed as the leading contender for a Prince George's casino site, though it would likely have to compete with other locations.
Karmel said it's not a bad idea to consider Internet gambling during the special session even if it doesn't make the final cut this summer. "It's inevitable that one day it'll be legal in Maryland one way or another," he said.
Joe Weinberg, a spokesman for the Cordish Cos., said other Northeastern states are following Delaware's lead in exploring Internet gambling.
"Maryland should not once again be put at a competitive disadvantage to neighboring states," he said. Approval of Internet gambling, will "put Maryland at a competitive equilibrium and provide an additional source of revenues to the State."
But Jerry Prosapio, a former compulsive gambler who co-founded the GamblingExposed website in Crestwood, Ill., said slot machines tied into the Internet could bring the most addictive form of gambling directly into the home.
"The real threat is that it exposes the youth to gambling," he said. "They can run up some really big numbers with the credit card."
Weinberg dismissed the notion of a threat to young people.
"There are well-recognized technological safeguards to ensure minors do not play on the Internet and the Internet would be regulated by the State with similar technological and human oversight as the bricks and mortar casinos," he said.
But Deschenaux said no foolproof age verification system now exists.
Fears of casinos finding a way into the home are among the reasons Internet gambling has fared poorly in recent polls in Iowa and New Jersey, states where legislators have considered such proposals.
Weinberg said an Internet gambling provision would not affect the chances that a bill will pass during the special session or be upheld at referendum.
Cordish has nothing to lose by raising the issue, Eberly said. If he gets Internet gambling, he gains a lucrative hedge against a loss of business at his brick-and-mortar investment in Maryland Live. And if the expected November referendum on the issue were to fail as a result of Internet gambling being in the same bill, Cordish's investment could be safe for now from competition to the south, Eberly said.
Still, Eberly wonders why Busch, who has been cool toward gambling expansion in the past, would put Internet gambling on the agenda.
"If I didn't know better, I would think that Mike Busch floated this idea to ensure that the idea dies at some point," Eberly said. "I'm just not cynical enough to believe that's possible."