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House OKs slots plan by 2 votes

After days of vote wrangling that lasted until the final seconds of the roll call, the House of Delegates narrowly approved a plan yesterday to let voters decide next year whether slot machine gambling should be legalized in Maryland.

"Tonight was a major tipping point," Gov. Martin O'Malley said after the vote. "We still have a long way to go. We still have other steps to take, so stay tuned."

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The House voted 86 to 52 -one more vote than needed - to put a slots referendum that would change the state Constitution on the November 2008 ballot. Five Republican delegates joined 81 Democrats in supporting the measure.

The House and the Senate must reconcile their differences over their respective referendum bills. Also, the House Ways and Means Committee plans to take up a companion bill this morning that lays out the details of how a slots program would be implemented.

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House Speaker Michael E. Busch has said he does not know whether he has the simple majority of 71 votes to pass the companion bill, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has said passing one bill without the other would amount to "fraud."

Busch had been working with O'Malley for days to win over a "supermajority" of 85 votes, or three-fifths of the delegates, required to pass the constitutional amendment. It wasn't until the vote was under way that they secured the last couple of votes needed.

"For five years, we have not been able to build consensus" on the slots issue, Busch said. "The citizens of Maryland want resolution and overwhelmingly, by the polls you read, would like an opportunity to vote on the issue."

Del. Roger Manno, a freshman Democrat from Montgomery County, said he agreed to vote for the bill at the behest of Busch aides who fanned out through the chamber when the vote count came up short and Busch held up the final tally. Afterward, O'Malley approached Manno outside the chamber to shake his hand and said, "I know that was hard on you. Thank you."

"My heart was heavy from beginning to end," said Manno, who is "philosophically opposed" to slots but agreed to let voters decide. "I do think that democratically this is the way to go."

Miller has said he intends to await House action on the second bill before negotiating a compromise on the referendum bill. The Senate passed both slots bill last week.

The companion bill is controversial because it sets aside up to $100 million for the struggling horse racing industry, and several legislators contend that the locations are defined so that only a select group of gambling interests are expected to benefit.

"We are about to enshrine in our Constitution ... who gets to be a billionaire," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, a Western Maryland Republican and the minority whip.

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The slots referendum is a major piece of a legislative package proposed by O'Malley during this special session to close a projected $1.7 billion budget shortfall through tax increases and spending cutbacks, while allotting more for transportation, health care and Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

While many GOP members supported slots legislation in the past, they objected to changing the state Constitution and to sending the issue to a referendum. The legislature has the power to legalize slots by a simple majority vote. Before the session began, O'Malley backed away from seeking an up-or-down vote and decided instead to seek a referendum. That change, along with several tweaks to the bill in recent days, won over many legislators who were opposed to expanding gambling in the state. It also appeared to break an impasse between Busch, who personally opposes slots, and Miller, a slots supporter.

Under O'Malley's plan, voters would decide whether to allow 15,000 slot machines at five locations - in Baltimore City and in Anne Arundel, Allegany, Cecil and Worcester counties.

The Senate would allow gambling to be expanded to other sites or to include table games only through a three-fifths vote of the legislature, while the House would allow that to happen only if a majority from both chambers vote on a referendum approved by voters.

Also, the House bill stipulates that slot parlors must comply with local planning and zoning laws, a provision that could give local officials more say over facilities in their jurisdictions.

Del. James N. Mathias Jr., an Eastern Shore Democrat and former Ocean City mayor, failed to remove the Worcester location that includes Ocean Downs racetrack from the bill through an amendment. He said the added zoning language in the bill didn't give him enough of an assurance that the county could prevent a slots parlor from being located there.

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The House also rejected amendments to restrict campaign contributions from gambling companies; to choose slots operators through a government-run auction instead of by listing the areas in the constitutional amendment; and to lower the number of slot machines to 9,500.

The debate became heated on occasion. Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat and slots foe, said the legislature has been put through "a kind of political waterboarding." He chastised colleagues who campaigned against slots but would vote for the referendum, calling it a "Trojan horse" for slots.

Simmons also predicted that gambling interests would spend tens of millions of dollars to win the referendum, and if that failed, the industry would come back again to the legislature. "There is too much money in Maryland; it's a wealthy state," he said. "They want to pry it open like an oyster and shuck it."

Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, argued that voters should be heard on slots and that such a contentious issue on the ballot could improve voter turnout.

Special interest groups and activists on both sides of the issue say they are ready for a fight at the ballot box.

"We have a very strong grass-roots network, and we are going to run a very vigorous and aggressive campaign, and we intend to prevail," said Aaron W. Meisner, spokesman for Stop Slots Maryland, a citizens group.

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Richard J. Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, was cautiously optimistic that the legislature could agree on a slots referendum. "We're glad that step has passed, and we can get on to the next part of the process," he said.

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com james.drew@baltsun.com

Roll call

A bill to allow voters to decide a constitutional amendment allowing slot machines passed the House 86-52, one vote more than the minimum 85, or supermajority, needed. Here is the roll call vote:

FOR

Benjamin S. Barnes, D, Anne Arundel & Prince George's Counties

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Kumar P. Barve, D, Montgomery County

Pamela Beidle, D, Anne Arundel County

John L. Bohanan Jr., D, St. Mary's County

Talmadge Branch, D, Baltimore City

Eric M. Bromwell, D, Baltimore County

William A. Bronrott, D, Montgomery County

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Michael E. Busch, D, Anne Arundel County

Jon S. Cardin, D, Baltimore County

Galen R. Clagett, D, Frederick County

Virginia P. Clagett, D, Anne Arundel County

Frank M. Conaway, Jr., D, Baltimore City

Norman H. Conway, D, Wicomico & Worcester Counties

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Dereck E. Davis, D, Prince George's County

Steven J. DeBoy Sr., D, Baltimore County, Howard County

John P. Donoghue, D, Washington County

Ann Marie Doory, D, Baltimore City

Kathleen M. Dumais, D, Montgomery County

D. Page Elmore, R, Somerset & Wicomico Counties

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Brian J. Feldman, D, Montgomery County

C. William Frick, D, Montgomery County

Barbara A. Frush, D, Anne Arundel & Prince George's Counties

Tawanna P. Gaines, D, Prince George's County

James W. Gilchrist, D, Montgomery County

Cheryl Glenn, D, Baltimore City

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Melony G. Griffith, D, Prince George's County

Ana Sol Gutierrez, D, Montgomery County

Guy Guzzone, D, Howard County

Peter A. Hammen, D, Baltimore City

Hattie N. Harrison, D, Baltimore City

Keith E. Haynes, D, Baltimore City

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Anne Healey, D, Prince George's County

Sue Hecht, D, Frederick County

Henry B. Heller, D, Montgomery County

Sheila E. Hixson, D, Montgomery County

James W. Hubbard, D, Prince George's County

Tom Hucker, D, Montgomery County

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Richard K. Impallaria, R, Baltimore & Harford Counties

Jolene Ivey, D, Prince George's County

Mary-Dulany James, D, Cecil & Harford Counties

Sally Y. Jameson, D, Charles County

Adrienne A. Jones, D, Baltimore County

A. Wade Kach, R, Baltimore County

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Anne R. Kaiser, D, Montgomery County

James King, R, Anne Arundel County

Ruth M. Kirk, D, Baltimore City

Carolyn J. Krysiak, D, Baltimore City

Sue Kullen, D, Calvert County

Stephen W. Lafferty, D, Baltimore County

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Jane E. Lawton, D, Montgomery County

Susan C. Lee, D, Montgomery County

Murray D. Levy, D, Charles County

Mary Ann Love, D, Anne Arundel County

James E. Malone, Jr., D, Baltimore County, Howard County

Roger Manno, D, Montgomery County

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Brian K. McHale, D, Baltimore City

Maggie McIntosh, D, Baltimore City

Joseph J. Minnick, D, Baltimore County

Dan K. Morhaim, D, Baltimore County

Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D, Baltimore County

Doyle L. Niemann, D, Prince George's County

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Nathaniel T. Oaks, D, Baltimore City

John A. Olszewski Jr., D, Baltimore County

Shane E. Pendergrass, D, Howard County

James E. Proctor Jr., D, Calvert & Prince George's Counties

Victor R. Ramirez, D, Prince George's County

Kirill Reznik, D, Montgomery County

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Craig L. Rice, D, Montgomery County

B. Daniel Riley, D, Cecil & Harford Counties

Barbara Robinson, D, Baltimore City

Samuel I. Rosenberg, D, Baltimore City

Justin D. Ross, D, Prince George's County

David D. Rudolph, D, Cecil County

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Todd Schuler, D, Baltimore County

Theodore J. Sophocleus, D, Anne Arundel County

Dana M. Stein, D, Baltimore County

Melvin L. Stukes, D, Baltimore City

Shawn Z. Tarrant, D, Baltimore City

Frank S. Turner, D, Howard County

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Veronica L. Turner, D, Prince George's County

Kris Valderrama, D, Prince George's County

Joseph F. Vallario, Jr., D, Calvert & Prince George's Counties

Michael L. Vaughn, D, Prince George's County

Jay Walker, D, Prince George's County

Michael H. Weir, Jr., D, Baltimore County

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Richard B. Weldon, Jr., R, Frederick & Washington Counties

AGAINST

Saqib Ali, D, Montgomery County

Curtis S. Anderson, D, Baltimore City

Susan L. M. Aumann, R, Baltimore County

Charles E. Barkley, D, Montgomery County

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Joseph R. Bartlett, R, Frederick County

Gail H. Bates, R, Howard County

Wendell R. Beitzel, R, Garrett & Allegany Counties

Joanne C. Benson, D, Prince George's County

Elizabeth Bobo, D, Howard County

Joseph C. Boteler III, R, Baltimore County

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Aisha N. Braveboy, D, Prince George's County

Emmett C. Burns, Jr., D, Baltimore County

Rudolph C. Cane, D, Dorchester & Wicomico Counties

Jill P. Carter, D, Baltimore City

Robert A. Costa, R, Anne Arundel County

Don Dwyer, R, Anne Arundel County

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Adelaide C. Eckardt, R, Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot & Wicomico Counties

Donald B. Elliott, R, Carroll & Frederick Counties

William J. Frank, R, Baltimore County

Ron George, R, Anne Arundel County

Barry Glassman, R, Harford County

Jeannie Haddaway, R, Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot & Wicomico Counties

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Marvin E. Holmes, Jr., D, Prince George's County

J. B. Jennings, R, Baltimore & Harford Counties

Kevin Kelly, D, Allegany County

Nicholas R. Kipke, R, Anne Arundel County

Benjamin F. Kramer, D, Montgomery County

Susan W. Krebs, R, Carroll County

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Gerron S. Levi, D, Prince George's County

James N. Mathias Jr., D, Wicomico & Worcester Counties

Susan K. McComas, R, Harford County

Tony McConkey, R, Anne Arundel County

Patrick L. McDonough, R, Baltimore & Harford Counties

Robert A. McKee, R, Washington County

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Warren E. Miller, R, Howard County

Heather R. Mizeur, D, Montgomery County

Peter Murphy, D, Charles County

LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R, Allegany & Washington Counties

Anthony J. O'Donnell, R, Calvert & St. Mary's Counties

Joseline Pena-Melnyk, D, Anne Arundel & Prince George's Counties

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Steve Schuh, R, Anne Arundel County

Christopher B. Shank, R, Washington County

Tanya Thornton Shewell, R, Carroll County

Luiz R. S. Simmons, D, Montgomery County

Michael D. Smigiel, Sr., R, Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne's Counties

Richard A. Sossi, R, Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne's Counties

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Donna Stifler, R, Harford County

Nancy R. Stocksdale, R, Carroll County

Herman L. Taylor, Jr., D, Montgomery County

Jeff Waldstreicher, D, Montgomery County

Mary Roe Walkup, R, Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne's Counties

John F. Wood, Jr., D, Charles & St. Mary's Counties

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EXCUSED

Carolyn J. B. Howard, D, Prince George's County

Karen S. Montgomery, D, Montgomery County

Paul S. Stull, R, Frederick County



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