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Baker, unions push Md. lawmakers on gaming

Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and several labor groups are calling on the governor and legislative leaders to consider legislation to allow an expansion of gambling if the General Assembly returns for a special session.

In a letter sent to state leaders on Monday, Baker said, a Democrat, said a casino in his county would help Maryland address its budget shortfall without burdening taxpayers. Consideration of gambling appears to have been at the center of the state's budget meltdown this month.

"Expanding revenue through gaming remains an opportunity," Baker wrote, suggesting that a casino could bring in $69 million in revenue for Prince George's. "I am not championing gaming. I am a champion and advocate for increased opportunity and increased revenue, without additional burden to taxpayers."

When the 90-day legislative session ended at midnight April 9, the General Assembly had failed to pass key revenue measures needed to balance the proposed budget to which leaders had agreed. As a result of the inaction, a budget containing $500 million in cuts to state and local government will take effect July 1 unless the legislature returns for a special session. Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he will call a session if the leaders reach agreement beforehand.

O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch have suggested the impasse was connected to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's insistence that lawmakers approve legislation to allow a sixth casino in Maryland, to be located in Prince George's, and to allow table games at all casinos.

Miller has said the Assembly simply ran out of time. The three, all Democrats, are scheduled to meet privately at the governor's mansion Tuesday morning to discuss the budget situation.

Baker's letter, which is consistent with his past support of a casino, comes as prominent labor groups in the state have also pressed lawmakers to consider a gambling if they return. Local leaders of the Service Employees International Union wrote O'Malley, Busch and Miller last week arguing that a casino would be a job creator in the region.

"An expansion of gaming would help Maryland respond to the disturbing trend we have witnessed for years of Delaware, West Virginia and — most recently — Pennsylvania funding their state and local budgets from the gaming dollars of Maryland residents," the letter read.

The gambling proposal, which the Senate approved, would put the issue up for referendum in November.

City and county leaders, who could be forced to raise local taxes to deal with the proposed spending cuts in the state's "doomsday" budget, have pressured the General Assembly to reconvene quickly. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has also expressed support for the gambling proposal, which would allow the city's coming casino to offer table games in addition to slot machines.

"If a special session includes gaming, the mayor will join with County Executive Baker to support it," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said in a statement.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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