by Annie Linskey
10:26 AM EDT, July 17, 2012
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said that "some hard work" and "elbow grease" are required in coming days if the General Assembly is to come back for a special session on gambling expansion.
Miller said that rank-and-file lawmakers "need to be asked" for their votes. "We need some elected officials to humble themselves and ask and find away to make this happen," Miller said.
The Senate President spoke to reporters outside Government House after a 90 minute breakfast meeting with Gov. Martin O'Malley, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and top aides. It is the first time the three have met in weeks, and came a day after O'Malley sat down with leaders from Prince George's County, Montgomery County and Baltimore -- the three areas that send the most Democratic votes to the state's General Assembly.
Miller's comments were his first to reporters since May, when the General Assembly met in special session to approve a new budget for the state. He is pushing to add a sixth casino to Maryland's gambling program and table games at all casinos.
"It is so simple," Miller said. "It is only a few words in the Constitution and it is a done deal. It is thousands and thousands of jobs. It is increased revenue."
A package of changes he and O'Malley support would net the state $223 million a year, though opponents of the changes note that adding a sixth casino could be risky and similar revenues could be generated simply by adding table games at existing sites and shifting the responsibility of buying slot machines from the state to the casino operators.
Busch said far less. "Breakfast was delicious," he said when he emerged. "We made an assessment. That was it." Gambling legislation has sailed through the Senate in recent years, but encounters headwinds in the House where 71 votes are needed for passage.
The 43 member House GOP caucus has committed to vote en mass against gambling expansion in a special session, and an unknown number of lawmakers have vacation or work plans taking them away from Maryland -- adding a layer of logistical difficulties.
O'Malley has said that he will made a decision about calling a special session in the next "week to ten days" -- though the clock is running down. Those changes must be approved by voters in November or wait for the next state-wide election in 2014. Law requires that ballot language be determined by August 20. (Though the General Assembly can move that date if it really, really wants to.)
Miller expressed a willingness to embrace a "House proposal" that has been described briefly by O'Malley, but not House leadership. The proposal would involve an independent gambling commission setting tax rates, and potentially having additional authority over gambling in Maryland.
"That is on the table," Miller said. "I think that makes sense quite frankly. If you are going to give people benefits through a bill such as additional hours and additional revenues such as table games. If you are going to give them additional revenues such as the state giving the owners the opportunity to purchase the [slot] machines, then you should have economists and accountants coming back with the recommendations for the rate and not legislators that don't have an expertise in these issues."
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