Thomas V. Mike Miller

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller opens Thursday's special session on expanded gambling. (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna / August 9, 2012)

The Maryland Senate prepared to take up the governor's gambling bill Friday as Senate PresidentThomas V. Mike Millerexpressed cautious optimism that the General Assembly will approve the measure by early next week.

The legislation will be on the Senate floor following its overwhelming approval Thursday by the Budget and Taxation Committee. The committee voted 11-1 to pass the bill just hours after the opening of the Assembly's second special session of the year.

"I think we're going to get it done. If we don't, it's not because we haven't tried," said Miller, who sat in for some of the hearing. He has been a relentless champion of allowing more gambling in Maryland — especially a new casino inPrince George's Countythat opponents fear would saturate the market with slot machines.

If Miller has enough votes, he could bring the measure to a final Senate vote late today — subject to an agreement on any changes that might be made in the House.

Gov.Martin O'Malleyacknowledged Thursday that his bill may face some opposition within the Senate Democratic caucus, but said he is "confident" the measure will pass in both chambers.

"We have to create jobs," O'Malley said. "This is about creating jobs and remaining competitive with other states."

The governor's bill would permit a sixth casino in Maryland, to be located in Prince George's, and allow Vegas-style table games at all of the state's gambling locations. To compensate for increased competition, the bill would cut the tax rate for some existing operators.

The Senate has long been considered the more receptive to gambling of the two legislative chambers. The larger fight is expected to start Friday when the House of Delegates convenes. House Speaker Michael E. Buschhad a series of private meetings Thursday with Democrats who were withholding their support.

"We've talked to just about everyone," Busch said. "I think everyone feels in some way comfortable with the legislation."

Legislative analysts say the package of changes in O'Malley's bill would yield the state $200 million a year in additional revenue — to be directed to education — beginning in July 2016.

Of that figure, $130 million would come from provisions of the bill that have been less controversial — allowing games such as poker and blackjack at existing casinos and letting them stay open around the clock if their local jurisdictions approve. Only about $70 million would come from opening a new casino near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, analysts estimate.

But Warren Deschenaux, the legislature's chief policy analyst, said those figures do not account for a possible tax rate reduction of up to 5 percentage points for slot machines at the existing casino at Arundel Mills and another planned for downtown Baltimore. The two venues can seek the tax break, worth an estimated $30 million to $40 million, if competition from a Prince George's casino cuts their revenues more than currently projected.

With revenue to the state expected to level off at $225 million to $235 million near the end of the decade, the analysts are putting the potential payoff of a Prince George's casino at roughly $60 million to $100 million.

When asked whether revenue from adding a casino in Prince George's County would be worth all of the work, Busch said: "You'll have to ask the governor."

Some witnesses at the hearing and at local delegation meetings Thursday questioned whether the likely gains justified the possible downsides.

Joe Weinberg, managing partner at the Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills, told senators and delegates from Anne Arundel County thatthe Cordish Cos.made their bid to build the giant slots-only gambling hall based on the assumption that there would be no competition from a rival in Prince George's County.

"We did so based on the constitutional provision that there would be five casinos in the state," Weinberg said, noting that the companies are paying the nation's highest tax rate, 67 percent, on slots revenue. "We made the business decision that we could pay that and build a world-class facility in Anne Arundel County."

When it has all of its planned 4,750 slot machines, Maryland Live will be the third-largest commercial casino in the country, Weinberg said. Another casino slated to open in Baltimore in mid-2014 will be the seventh largest, he said. Both, he said, have to compete with the nation's fifth-largest in CharlesTown, W. Va.