The House Democratic leadership is expected to meet Wednesday in Annapolis to discuss a proposed special session to expand gambling in Maryland.
A spokeswoman for House SpeakerMichael E. Busch confirmed that senior House leaders and key delegation chairs will meet at 4 p.m.
The gathering could be crucial to any decision to call a special session. Busch is believed to be trying to round up the votes it would take to pass a gambling expansion in the House, which so far has been the obstacle to a deal that would allow a casino inPrince George's Countyin exchange for permitting table games there and at the five already approved sites.
The leadership meeting represents one of the few signs of progress toward a special session in recent days. As the days dwindle down for calling legislators back to Annapolis, it is still unclear whether the House, Senate and O'Malley administration can all agree on on a plan to move forward.
Last week Gov.Martin O'Malleyexpressed hope that he could show the Baltimore city House delegation a draft of a proposed casino bill last Wednesday. Nothing was delivered that day. Then hopes among gambling expansion proponents that the administration would deliver the text of a bill Friday were dashed. Ditto for Monday.
As of Tuesday morning, O'Malley communications director Raquel Guillory said she did not know when a bill might be released. She said Gov.Martin O'Malley was working the phones and chief legislative aide Joseph Bryce was holding talks with legislators, but there was little concrete to report.
"It's still a work in progress," Guillory said.
Though the governor's press office continued to say Tuesday that it did not have a draft bill ready, Bryce said his office delivered some key language to the Baltimore city House delegation last Friday on how the administration would maintain the local aid share for Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties if a new casino were to come on line in Prince George's County.
That language shows that the administration is proposing to pool the local aid shares from the slots tax at existing or proposed casinos in the city, Anne Arundel and Prince George's and divide them in thirds. Baltimore, where a casino license could be awarded as early as next week, and Anne Arundel, home to the Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills, would be protected from any cut in aid after the opening of any casino in Prince George's. The city delegation had been expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the issue, but Baltimore delegation Chairman Del. Curt Anderson said Tuesday that the meeting had been postponed for a week.
Last week, during a flurry of meetings with county leaders and the General Assembly's presiding officers, O'Malley estimated the chances of a special session at a little better than 50-50. But with each day that passes without the announcement of a date for lawmakers to gather, the hurdles in the way of a session get a little steeper.
Leading lawmakers say they face a practical deadline of mid-August to hold a special session in time to put a question on the issue on the November ballot. The Senate and administration are both on board for a deal that would clear the way for a sixth casino in Prince George's County and an end to the ban on table games. But so far the House has balked at such a deal, which faces determined opposition from the owner of the new Maryland Live Casino, among others.
While Busch has expressed a willingness to work with O'Malley and Senate PresidentThomas V. Mike Millerto pass a bill, it is by no means clear that he can muster the 71 votes needed to pass it. The challenge is not only to find a formula that will persuade 71 delegates to agree. The House leadership has to get them to Annapolis on short notice at the height of vacation season. An absence is the equivalent of a no vote.
Democrats hold 98 of the 141 seats in the House, but the party is internally divided on the casino issue. House Republican leaders, who oppose a special session, have put Democrats on notice that they can't count on any GOP votes for a gambling expansion plan.
Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun