State Sen. Jamie Raskin likens the prospect of being called back to Annapolis for another special session to the plight of a middle school student being told on the last day of classes that he has to attend summer school.
But the Montgomery County Democrat, like the 187 other Maryland lawmakers, came out of the special session on budget issues last week knowing there's a strong likelihood they will be summoned back to Annapolis in July to contend with the thorny issue of expanding gambling.
Many, if not most, dread the idea.
"I just don't think coming back to increase gaming is an important enough subject to call back every legislator," said Del. Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the city delegation. "The actual prospects are still slim."
Republicans, who opposed Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision to call this year's first special session, don't like the idea of a second any better.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell of Calvert County said, "If [a gaming expansion is] going to be done, it ought to be done in the regular session," which begins next January.
But those who back an expansion of gambling — allowing table games to go with slots, and adding a sixth casino — want to put the question before voters in November. If they can't get the issue on the ballot this fall — an action that would require passage of legislation this summer — they won't get another chance until 2014.
O'Malley proposed the second session as a way of separating questions about gambling from the debate over income tax increases that lawmakers approved during the first special session.
That division managed to satisfy Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the state's most powerful proponent of expanded gambling.
Many in Annapolis, including the governor and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, thought Miller's intense interest in passing a gambling bill complicated the effort to bring the House and Senate together around a budget plan during the 90-day regular session.
Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, wants to authorize a new casino in Prince George's County, and to allow table games there and at the five slots-only gambling locations approved by the voters in 2008.
His favored location for the sixth casino is National Harbor, a luxury hotel and convention center complex on the banks of the Potomac River just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
That location also has the support of Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, one of the main cheerleaders for a second special session. He said a casino at National Harbor would bring a much-needed $69 million in annual revenue to the county, as well as thousands of jobs.
"It's critical that we have it on the ballot this year," Baker said.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also supports a special session. She wants lawmakers to approve table games at the planned slots location in Baltimore.
"For the city, an expansion will create more jobs, increase state education funding, and help lower property taxes for city homeowners," said Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for the mayor.
Miller argues that National Harbor is ideally situated to attract Virginia and District of Columbia residents, as well as Washington tourists, to visit Maryland and leave a respectable amount of their money behind.
Speaking with reporters after the Senate adjourned Wednesday, Miller cast the next special session as a way to reduce Maryland's stubborn long-term projected deficits, which he estimated at $500 million. Expanding gambling could allow the legislature to avoid tax increases next year, he said.
"Hopefully we can get another site up and running and we can get table games so we can compete fairly and equitably with Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia," Miller said.
O'Malley is expected to quickly name a commission, with members from the Senate and House, to study the gambling expansion — with the ambitious goal of reporting back by June 20. Miller said the panel will make recommendations on changing the state's share of casino revenues, which is now 67 percent.
The Senate president said he wants to be sensitive to concerns raised by other casino operators, particularly David Cordish, who will open the state's largest gambling site, Maryland Live!, at Arundel Mills next month.
That casino stands to lose the most as a result of competition from a new gambling site in Prince George's County. Cordish spared no effort in fighting such an expansion during the 90-day session.
Miller promised any deal will be fair to the businessman.
"Mr. Cordish has invested his money," Miller said. "He needs to be held harmless. We're going to give him whatever break he needs to be held harmless and that is a promise."
Representatives from Cordish's company did not return a call for comment.
Besides Cordish, the big obstacle is the House of Delegates, which so far has not shown nearly as much enthusiasm as the Senate for more gambling. It was in the House that casino legislation died on the last day of the regular session, when Busch could not round up enough votes.
It is still not clear whether opinions in the House — especially concerns among Baltimore legislators that a Prince George's casino could siphon off business from the planned downtown location — have changed enough to make a difference.
There is so far no consensus on how to protect the already approved slots locations from competition, or how big a share state and local governments should take.
Proponents hope the commission's findings will form the basis for a House-Senate accord, and Busch has said he would feel more comfortable setting policy on the basis of expert advice rather than political guesswork.
The state Department of Legislative Services already has the consulting firm Price Waterhouse at work crunching numbers, and Busch said there will be discussions over the next couple weeks in an effort to find common ground.
Last week O'Malley restated his intention to call a special session to deal with gambling — projecting confidence that the consensus that eluded lawmakers during the regular session will be achieved.
But if legislative leaders can't reach an agreement that can win majorities in both chambers, O'Malley would have little reason to call legislators back. If anything could tarnish the image of the legislature more than dual special sessions, it would be returning to Annapolis for day after day of unproductive squabbling.
Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said the governor, Busch and Miller can't afford that.
"They need it to be smooth. It's about reputation at this point. They can't afford contentious," Eberly said.
The fate of the state's pit bulls also could hinge on an agreement on Maryland's casinos. That's because defenders of the breed want to use the opportunity of a second special session to overturn a recent state Court of Appeals ruling that labeled the animals as inherently dangerous.
Pit bull advocates said they can't wait until next year for action. The ruling, they said, could force some owners to choose between their homes and their dogs if landlords seek to ban the dogs for fear of lawsuits.
Miller seemed enthusiastic about taking up legislation.
"The pit bull issue is coming to a head right now," he said. "There are thousands and thousands of this particular breed that are supposedly going to be put to death now because of the liability issues."
On that issue at least, Miller and Busch appear to be on the same page. Busch said last week that he considers the court decision "misdirected" and would be open to overturning it in a summer session.
But for many legislators, neither gambling nor pit bulls is a potent lure for a return to Annapolis.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and a longtime opponent of gambling, would strongly prefer not to come back to vote on that issue. "I just don't see why it's an emergency," he said.
Other lawmakers are more willing to deal with the issue this summer.
"I wish we didn't have to, but I think it's pretty important," said Sen. Ronald N. Young, a Frederick County Democrat. "I think a casino at National Harbor would bring a lot of revenue from out-of-state money."
Baker said he's confident there will be good reason to return.
"I think we are going to come up with a consensus. The only thing that is missing is the study itself," he said. "I think we're much closer than people realize."
Eberly said a quick session to approve a casino deal won't have nearly the political peril of last week's gathering.
In the end, coming back for slots and casinos is a lot different from coming back and voting for tax increases," he said. "My belief is at the end of the day they get it done."
Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.
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- Politics and Government
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- Michael E. Busch
- Crime, Law and Justice
- Justice System
- Executive Branch
- Local Government
- Republican Party
- Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
- Jamin B. Raskin
- Ronald N. Young
- Rushern L. Baker III
- Brian Frosh
- Thomas V. Mike Miller
- Anthony J O'Donnell
- Woodrow Wilson
- Martin O'Malley