Gambling study is under way

Though the governor has called a May 14 special session to deal with budget issues, the General Assembly's staff and a consultant are already laying the groundwork for a possible second act in late summer.

Warren Deschenaux, chief policy analyst for the Department of Legislative Services, said his staff and the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers have begun a study of the possible effects of expanded casino gambling in Maryland.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is under contract with the state to do studies for the commission that decides where slot machines can be located. Deschenaux said the additional study of the potential impact of allowing a sixth casino in Maryland and table games at all six can be done under the existing consulting contract.

During the regular 90-day session that ended April 9, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller pushed unsuccessfully for such an expansion. Since the session ended, he has continued to argue that the legislature needs to act on the issue this year so the question of expansion can go to voters on the November ballot.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, however, have said it would be better to keep gambling out of the budget special session while conducting a study. They want to know more about the level of taxation in other states and the effect of additional gambling on current slots license holders. Miller has said the gambling issue will not be permitted to get in the way of budget action during the May session.

Busch has said Democratic leaders have also discussed the possibility of creating a commission to make recommendations on gambling before a possible second special session on that issue in late July or early August.

The governor has not yet agreed to the idea, but if such a panel were created it could presumably draw on the work done by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the legislative staff.

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