Howard legislators aid in General Assembly approval of sixth casino, table games

The Maryland General Assembly — with not a single vote to spare in the House but a heavy cushion in the Senate — gave final approval early Wednesday, Aug. 15 to a bill that would add table games and a sixth casino inPrince George's County to the state's gambling program.

The gambling expansion legislation narrowly escaped the House of Delegates, as the 71-58 vote was just enough needed to pass the bill.

"What we did was try to produce the best work product that we could coming out of the House ... Now, it's up to the voters," said Del. Frank Turner, a Columbia Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee on gaming and thus was the delegate designed to defend the bill on the floor.

Turner, a longtime critic of expanding gambling before the five already authorized casinos are up and running, ultimately voted for the bill. So, too, did Columbia Democrats Dels. Guy Guzzone and Shane Pendergrass and Halethorpe Democrats Dels. Steven DeBoy and James Malone.

Republican Dels. Gail Bates, of West Friendship, and Warren Miller, of Woodbine, voted against the bill. Bates has previously said she does not believe gambling should be used as a means for trying to balance the budget.

Del. Liz Bobo, a Columbia Democrat, was absent for the vote, but she previously said she would not have supported the bill.

In the Senate, which passed the House's amended version of the bill 32-14, the bill got support from Columbia Democrat Ed Kasemeyer and Elkridge Democrat Jim Robey. West Friendship Republican Allan Kittleman voted against it.

With General Assembly approval, the fate of the gambling expansion plan will be left for the voters to decide on the Nov. 6 ballot. A single question, tying the table games component to the sixth casino, will be posed on the ballot.

If the proposal is approved by the majority of voters statewide but rejected by the majority ofPrince George's Countyvoters, the sixth casino will not happen, but table games will be allowed at the five already approved locations.

In discussing the many amendments his committee made to the bill before bring it to the House floor for a vote, Turner noted: "We want to make money for the state and that's our primary objective, but we also want to make sure they all can survive over time."

The legislation, according to state estimates, is expected to generate an additional $175 million for the state's education trust fund once the Prince George's County casino opens, which the bill specifies cannot be until July 2016.

The majority of 67 percent of slots revenues the state currently collects from the operators already goes to the education trust fund. However, in passing the bill, the General Assembly significantly lowered the 67 percent tax rate on operators, with the rates varying at each facility.

Most of the new money for the educational trust fund is expected to come from savings the state will reap from shifting the ownership of slot machines from the state to the larger operators and from table game revenues.

"The state still comes out ahead," Guzzone said. "That's the bottom line."

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