Though Gov. Martin O'Malley just called a May 14 special session to deal with budget issues Friday, the General Assembly’s staff and a consultant are already laying the groundwork for a possible second act in late summer.

Warren Deschenaux, chief policy analyst for the Department of Legislative Services, said his staff and the firm of Price Waterhouse have begun preparations for a study of the issues surrounding an expansion of gambling in Maryland.

Price Waterhouse is already under contract with the department to conduct studies for the state commission that decides where slot machines can be located. Deschenaux said the additional studies of the potential impact of an expansion of table games and a casino in Prince George's County can be done under the existing consulting contract.

During the regular 90-day session that ended April 9, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller pushed unsuccessfully for such an expansion. Since the session ended, he has continued to argue that the legislature needs to act on the issue this year so a casino-expansion question can go on the November ballot.

O'Malley and Busch, however, have said it would be better to keep gambling out of the budget special session while conducting a study of such issues as the proper level of taxation and the impact of expansion on current and pending slots license holders. Miller has said the gambling issue will not be permitted to get in the way of budget action during the May session.

Busch has said he, Miller and the governor have also discussed the possibility of creating a commission to make recommendations on the gambling issue before a possible second special session in late July or early August. The governor has not yet agreed to the idea, but if such a panel is created it could presumably draw on the work done by Price Waterhouse and the legislative staff.