by Annie Linskey
10:59 AM EDT, July 16, 2012
After meeting with leaders from two of the state's largest counties and Baltimore city this morning Gov. Martin O'Malley declared that "progress is being made" on a consensus proposal to expand gambling in Maryland.
The state's political leaders have been deadlocked since April over whether to change the state's gambling program to authorize a sixth site, likely in Prince George's County. Current operators are wary of the competition from another casino, but some state lawmakers are drawn by the tax revenues an additional site could generate.
"I had a very good meeting," O'Malley said after sitting down with Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker.
O'Malley said Monday that House leaders are backing a proposal to create a state gambling commission that would determine tax rates, the viability of an additional site and table games like poker, and other changes.
It is similar to an idea floated by O'Malley. On Monday he said changes to the gambling program is "something that is more complicated and better left to a commission to handle" but added that the General Assembly would have the ability to overturn the commission's actions "if it were ever something so egregious."
"It is not dissimilar to some other frameworks we have ... set up a gaming commission instead of having legislators wrestling over 54 percent, 53 percent [tax rates on slot machines proceeds] and what the split is on games," O'Malley said. "Leave it to a panel with some expertise and some ability to commission market studies."
Still up in the air is whether House rank-and-filed would go along, whether the Senate would like the idea, and if a special legislative session would be called this summer to approve the legislation.
Major changes to the state's gambling program must go to the voters, and ballot language must be settled by August 20. If voters don't weigh-in this year, the changes would have to wait until 2014. "There seems to be some question to the timing," O'Malley said. "Whether to get this done now so it can be on the ballot or whether to wait until January."
The governor warned that the "downside" of waiting until January, is the financing of a proposed casino in Baltimore could be "more difficult." The sole bidder to own and operate a Baltimore location is a group that includes Caesars Entertainment, an outfit that typically uses table games as a gambling draw.
The Baltimore casino license could be awarded as soon as the end of the month, when a gambling location commission meets.
O'Malley said a final decision on a special session will be made in the next "week to 10 days."
"I'd like to see it done now," O'Malley said. "I would have liked to see it done before now."
The governor plans a breakfast meeting Tuesday at Government House with House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to continue talks.
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