VFWs, Legions in Aberdeen and HdG to get slot machines

A bill to expand gambling in the state was finally approved early Wednesday morning after more than four days of a second special legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly.

The legislation passed, which will allow a sixth casino inPrince George's County, table games at all casinos and electronic gaming machines at VFWs and American Legions in most counties.

The new casino and table games will go before voters on the ballot in November, but only residents of Prince George's County will be able to vote on the sixth casino.

The House of Delegates amended Gov. Martin O'Malley's bill to permit veterans' organizations in every county except Montgomery County to have no more than five electronic gaming machines.

During the special session, Del. Eric Luedtke from Montgomery County said the organizations could rake in about $360,000 on yearly revenue from these machines, The Baltimore Sun reports.

Harford Sen. Barry Glassman proposed an amendment last Friday that would allow for machines in Harford County VFWs and American Legions, but it failed on the Senate floor.

Early Tuesday evening, however, delegates from across the state made similar amendments for their counties and Glassman's piece of the amendment for Harford was picked up.

Glassman wrote in an e-mail Wednesday morning, "We've been trying to get that [ruling] for 15 years, so I held my nose and voted for [the] final amendment."

In the end, the House approved the legislation 71-58, passing it before midnight. The Senate approved the measure 32-14.

The House also approved an amendment that prevents state-issued welfare cards to be accepted at casino ATMs.

A similar measure was passed in California, according The Baltimore Sun, after the state discovered tens of millions in welfare money was spent and lost gambling at casinos.

O'Malley's bill also bars any one entity, whether a person or company, that owns more than 5 percent of a casino from giving political contributions.

'Not special' session

Del. Rick Impallaria said Thursday there was nothing that came out of the special session that will benefit Harford County except the gaming machines amendment.

"What were we doing there," Impallaria, who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties, said. "It really had no true effect on us whatsoever. It should've been straightened out during the regular session."

How the expanded gaming bill will affect the state, Impallaria says we'll have to wait and see. Harford County most likely won't see any benefits or repercussions, he added.

Del. Susan McComas wrote in an e-mail, "Special session was not special, not necessary and only a feeding frenzy for breaks and benefits to rich and well connected special interests."

McComas believes the session "had nothing to do with the public good or the best interests of Maryland residents," referring to casino operators receiving a reduction in the current 67 percent tax rate.

"Now, there are questions about the constitutionality of the gambling bill since the legislature may have violated constitutional provisions requiring the House and Senate to vote within three calendar days," the e-mail continued. "The Senate was not in session from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. The haste of the special session to get the referendum for a sixth casino and table games might be all for nothing if the courts determine the Maryland Constitution was violated."

An amendment that would overturn the ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous died during the session.

"The biggest losers were the pit bulls, the dogs' owners and landlords," McComas continued. "The Senate leadership refused to review and vote on the House's well-crafted and thoughtful bill. Now it will be up to the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision where the justices found pit bulls to be inherently dangerous and landlords strictly liable for those bites."

Del. Glen Glass, who initially boycotted the special session, also feels it went badly.

"A sixth site is going to hurt other casinos with over-saturation of the market," he wrote in an e-mail. "Perryville lost 32 [percent] of the profits over the last month with the addition of Maryland Live! An additional casino will further reduce their profits."

He continued, "Last special session the Democrat-controlled legislature and the governor raised taxes on the middle class. This special session they lowered taxes for large casino corporations. I have a serious problem with that, which is why I voted against the bill."

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