Senators reluctant to take up Internet gambling

Key senators on the committee that handles casino-related matters rejected the notion of taking up the issue of Internet gambling during next week's special session, saying there isn't enough time to weigh the implications of a step that could, in effect, put slot machines in Maryland homes.

Four Democratic members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, each a supporter of other forms of gambling expansion, said Friday that they are not prepared to sort through the complex issues surrounding online gambling in a session that is expected to last less than a week.


House Speaker Michael E. Busch told House Democrats in an email Wednesday that they can expect to see Internet gambling on the table in the special session called by Gov. Martin O'Malley to consider allowing a Prince George's casino and table games.

O'Malley said through a spokeswoman that he agrees that online gambling should be part of the discussion.


The special session, the General Assembly's second this year, is expected to begin Thursday.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said he is reluctant to deal with Internet gambling next week because there are many unanswered questions.

Unlike the other issues expected to come up, he said, his committee hasn't held hearings on Internet gambling, which could let gamblers play slots, video poker and other games on their computers and smartphones. "It just seems to have a lot of implications potentially that I'm not aware of," the Howard County Democrat said. "What does it mean? What is it all about?"

Among other problems, Kasemeyer said, is that bringing Internet gaming into the discussion could result in a more drawn-out session.


Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the legislature's leading proponent of gambling expansion, has expressed the hope that the session can be wrapped up in three days. But an aide to Busch said it is likely to take a few days more to wrap up work.

Miller, a Calvert County Democrat who has kept a low profile on gambling issues in recent weeks, could not be reached for comment. But three other Democrats on the budget committee bluntly dismissed the idea of considering Internet gambling.

"It just seems to open up a can of worms," said Sen. Roger Manno of Montgomery County.

"I don't know how you can control it for individuals under 21," said Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell of Baltimore. "I really think it's irresponsible."

"It may be a bit of overkill," said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of Baltimore. "You can put too many bulbs on the Christmas tree and it'll fall down."

Busch, who conferred Friday with key House members about gambling-related issues, did not take Internet gaming off the table but said the matter did not come up in the meeting.

Like other lawmakers, he acknowledged gaps in his grasp of the matter. "I don't have enough background on it. It would be unfair of me to discuss it," said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Calvert County Republican, said the ramifications of Internet gambling "need to be thoroughly vetted.'

"To do this in a special session and make decisions, it's horrible," he said.

Beyond the question of an accelerated schedule, O'Donnell said he has serious reservations about the underlying policy.

"It just seems like gambling proliferation on steroids," he said.

Senate Minority Whip Edward R. Reilly, an Anne Arundel County Republican, displayed no more enthusiasm for what he called a "dramatic" step.

"It could be going into every single household and electronic device in a hurry and we have to take our time and look at it," Reilly said.

But Del. Jon Cardin of Baltimore County, a Democrat on the House committee that handles gambling, said the state might already be losing revenue to Internet gambling on offshore websites.

He said it might make sense during the special session to discuss ways to regulate it.

"Let's figure out a way to keep it under our umbrella," he said.

The idea of Internet gambling surfaced this week when Arundel Mills casino developer David Cordishsaid one of the steps lawmakers could take that might ease his concerns about a rival slots operation in Prince George's casino would be to let him offer Internet gambling at a tax rate of 10 percent.

That's far less than the 67 percent the state collects on slot machine revenue.

Jeff Hooke, an investment banker who heads the Maryland Taxpayer Education Foundation, said there isn't a lot of precedent for setting a tax rate on Internet gambling.

But he called the Cordish proposal "absurdly low" and said the rate should be set through a competitive bidding process.

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