A nine-member task force, with a majority of its members appointed by the governor, wouldbe asked to study the future of legalized casino gambling in Maryland under a bill approved by a House committee last night.
The proposed Joint Executive-Legislative Task Force to Study Commercial Gaming would be made up of two state senators, two delegates and five public members appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in consultation with the Senate president and House speaker. The governor also would designate the chairman.
The bill to set up the commission passed the Judiciary Committee on a 14-7 vote. It now goes to the full House of Delegates and, if passed there, to the Senate.
The measure was approved over the objections of committee members who predicted that any study commission will inevitably be used to justify the legalization of commercial casino or riverboat gambling in Maryland. Several freshmen suggested that the legislators were elected to sift through such information and make tough decisions, and not leave them to an appointed task force.
"I'll do the work," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Calvert County Republican. "I'm not passing the buck on this. It's a simple policy decision. We all know what casinos are and we all know what impacts there will be on other industries."
But Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, and other veteran committee members said the gambling issue is too complex and its ramifications too broad to be left to part-time lawmakers to study during the summer when the legislature is not in session.
Del. Ann Marie Doory, a Baltimore Democrat and vice chairwoman of the committee, disputed the notion that simply studying the issue means the task force would recommend legalizing casinos or, even if it did, that the legislature would approve it.
"No way is this a ratification of gambling in the state of Maryland," she said. "It just keeps an open mind about what is the right thing to do."
The size of the proposed task force came as something of a surprise.
A subcommittee headed by Harford County Democrat Mary Louise Preis had been working on a plan to appoint a 21-member panel that would have included representatives of the gaming industry, the horse racing industry, the clergy and others.
Mr. Glendening applauded the change, calling the first proposal "a Noah's ark" of special interests that would have produced a report "that would have been mush."
Instead, he said, he would have the chance to appoint "a true blue-ribbon citizen group with no vested interests."
The task force would be charged with reviewing various legislative proposals to legalize casino or other gambling in Maryland -- proposals stopped this year when Mr. Glendening threatened to veto any casino bills that passed.
The task force would be asked to solicit the views of the public "regarding commercial gaming activities" in each region of the state, but not to recommend any specific sites for casinos.
Also to be studied would be the effects of commercial gaming activities on: other industries in the state, "including but not limited to horse racing, hotels, restaurants, agriculture and tourism"; compulsive gamblers; law enforcement; state and local government finances; gaming activities run by veterans' groups or other non-profit organizations; economic development; and "the ethical issues associated with commercial gaming activities."