Revised Prince George's casino bill faces committee vote Saturday

Laurel's District 23 Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters' bill to authorize Maryland to have a sixth gambling site inPrince George's County is being revised in the House of Delegates.

With the General Assembly session slated to end on Monday, if the revised bill does not pass out of the House Ways and Means Committee Saturday, the issue will likely be dead for the year.

The Senate passed Peters' bill — which would authorize the state to issue a sixth video lottery operation license for a location inPrince George's Countywith 4,750 slot machines — in a 35-11 vote March 23. The bill says the location must be "within 4 miles of the intersection of Bock Road and St. Barnabas Road." Both National Harbor and Rosecroft Raceway, which are about 5 miles apart, meet that requirement.

Prince George's County Executive Baker has pushed for National Harbor as the location, along with National Harbor's developer and business owners. Meanwhile, advocates of the horse racing industry have pushed for a casino at Rosecroft Raceway.

The Senate bill would also authorize all holders of a video lottery operation license to offer table games at their facilities.

District 13 Del. Frank Turner, a Columbia Democrat who represents North Laurel and chairs the House subcommittee that deals with gaming legislation, announced his plans to revise the bill Friday. The bill would authorize Prince George's County to have a gambling site within 1 1/2 miles of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, wording that provides flexibility within the National Harbor area but rules out the possibility of a casino at Rosecroft.

However, Turner's version of the bill would not allow the Prince George's casino to carry slot machines; it only authorizes the facility to have table games.

"One of the biggest problems is we don't have numbers, anything to substantiate whether the state of Maryland can take another 4,750 slot machines," Turner said.

He gave an example of two Connecticut slot facilities that went bankrupt because they were too close to each other.

"We don't want to make the same mistake," Turner said.

The revised bill would still allow table games at the state's five previously approved slot locations, but for a $1 million licensing fee. Revenue collected from the licensing fee would go into the state's Education Trust Fund.

Turner's version specifies that 85 percent of the revenue earned from table games would go to the casino operators; the other 15 percent would go to the Education Trust Fund. For the Prince George's facility, the 15 percent not collected by the operators would go to the county government.

The portion going to operators is high to help offset staffing costs, Turner said.

"For every table, you need four employees," he explained.

The bill that passed the Senate would have increased the percentage of slots revenue that goes to operators. Turner's version does not.

Turner said the revised bill will be voted on in committee Saturday, and if it passes, it will likely be taken up on the House floor Monday.

Asked if that's enough time for the bill to pass, as the Senate would have to approve the revisions, Turner said: "It's enough time if the Senate wants to take it."

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