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O'Malley, Busch attempt to persuade Baltimore legislators on P.G. casino

Gov. Martin O'Malley, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake met behind closed doors with Baltimore's House delegation Wednesday to ask the lawmakers to support having another casino in Maryland.

After the meeting at City Hall, the chairman of the 18-member delegation said the group remains concerned that a proposal to allow a sixth casino in the state would hurt business at the planned gambling parlor in Baltimore.

"All 18 of us are in favor of expanding to table games, but not in favor of the sixth site," said Del. Curt Anderson, the delegation chairman. "They're trying to make it like we're the bad guys."

The governor and Busch have been trying to round up support for a proposal to allow a sixth casino, which would be located at National Harbor in Prince George's County, and to allow table games such as blackjack at all six. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has been pushing the idea for several months.

According to delegates who attended the meeting, O'Malley and Busch pitched a plan to set aside more funding for the city, including its dilapidated school buildings. Anderson said he asked the governor to put his proposal in writing. O'Malley said later he hopes to do that — in the form of proposed legislation — by Friday.

"You can say those things, but I'd rather see them in writing," Anderson said. "We're certainly going to keep our minds open. At this point, I don't see that much has changed until we get their final numbers."

Anderson said the delegates planned to meet next week to discuss the governor's proposal.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. wants to build a casino near M&T Bank Stadium to open as early as mid-2014, the company said in June. Busch said Caesars will build a larger development in Baltimore if table games are approved in addition to the currently permitted slot machines.

The city delegation is "very concerned about school construction and the ability to upgrade their facilities for schools," Busch said after the meeting. "We're going to try to do everything we can to help them with that."

O'Malley said he pitched the delegates on the estimated 500 new jobs a casino featuring table games could bring Baltimore. He said many jurisdictions could benefit from increased state revenue from table games.

"The big issue affecting the city is, if the voters were to approve a sixth site, that that would not be to the detriment of Baltimore City," O'Malley said. "We have a way to do that, to make sure the city is held harmless."

The meeting was the latest step in renewed effort by the state's Democratic leaders to hold a special session on gambling this summer in time to put any proposed legislation on November's ballot. Major changes to the state's gambling program would have to be approved by voters.

O'Malley acknowledged he had not yet won over city delegates and that he planned additional meetings with other delegations.

"I don't think any of us expected to leave, after speaking to half the delegation, with the delegation on board," the governor said. "There will be no doubt lots of meetings going on in the weeks ahead."

Ten of the city's 18 delegates attended the meeting. Del. Maggie McIntosh said afterwards that she remained concerned that a "sixth site would impact Baltimore City."

"I certainly want to resolve in the next year a number of mechanisms for Baltimore City to get school construction money," she said. "It is sorely needed."

Anderson said he believed the meeting should have been open to the public. Asked about the decision to bar reporters, Rawlings-Blake's spokesman, Ryan O'Doherty, said only that an earlier ruling by the state attorney general's office made clear the meeting could be closed.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, said the governor decided that the meeting should be closed because of the "intricacies and concerns of legislators regarding the issue."

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