by Annie Linskey
10:48 AM EDT, April 9, 2012
House lawmakers this morning had the first crack at asking questions about a new Senate-passed bill to expand gambling.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's chief of staff Vicki Gruber explained the bill to delegates, saying there is "no doubt" that a sixth site in Prince George's County will bring "significant additional revenues" for Maryland.
The bill would put a three part question on the November 2012 ballot: Voters would decide if they want a sixth casino in PG, to increase the number of VLTs in the state by 1,000 to 16,000, and allow table games at all MD casinos.
The General Assembly would have to work out details -- including any changes to the tax rate on slot revenues -- next year.
The hearing room was packed full of the gambling lobbyists and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker sat in the front row. Other leaders -- including GOP House leader Del. Anthony O'Donnell -- ducked in and out. Several from the Baltimore city delegation attended as well, their 18 votes will be key if the bill stands a chance to pass today.
Del. Joseph C. Boteler, a Republican from Baltimore County, said he was concerned that it would be unfair to ask the public to vote on the bill without having enough information. "When the original slots bill passed, the public had a very clear understanding on how this money was to be spent," Boteler said. "For voters to make a decision on something like this they ought to know where the money should go."
Del. Kathy Afzali, a Frederick Republican, said she is worried about fairness for the current operators -- who were unaware that a sixth site might open when they crafted their business plans. "Now all of a sudden the game has changed," she said.
She also worried that an additional site could "bring down the whole ship" of garbing that the state has created.
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