Political Notebook: Del. Turner still no fan of gambling expansion

Limiting expansion of state gambling facilities is a principle Columbia Democrat Del. Frank Turner has adhered to in his role as the chairman of the House subcommittee that vets gambling-related legislation.

In his role as one of 11 members of the state Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion, Turner's questions and comments during the panel's June 1 and June 12 meetings indicate he hasn't changed his mind about the need to let the five authorized casinos — approved by voters in 2008 — get up and running before the state approves a sixth.


"I don't think I'm going to back off my principle," Turner said during a break of the June 12 meeting in Annapolis.

The work group was formed by Gov.Martin O'Malleyto consider the possibility of sixth casino inPrince George's County, as well as the legalization of table games. Columbia Democrat Ed Kasemeyer, who chairs the Senate Budget and Tax Committee, also serves on the panel.


If the work group, which is scheduled to meet and form its recommendation June 20, can reach consensus in favor of expanding gambling, O'Malley said he will call a special session the week of July 9 so the General Assembly can pass legislation in time for the issue to be placed on the November ballot.

Each chamber has three voting members on the panel — Turner and the two other delegates were selected by House Speaker Michael Busch and Kasemeyer and the two other senators were selected by Senate President Mike Miller. O'Malley appointed the other five members, four of whom are members of his administration.

During the regular session, the Senate passed legislation authorizing a sixth casino inPrince George's Countyand legalizing table games. The House, led by Turner and a few other delegates, was reluctant to sign off on the sixth casino without data showing Maryland could support an additional facility.

According to data the state Department of Legislative Services and PricewaterhouseCoopers presented to the panel June 12, the state could support further expansion.

Legislative researchers from DLS and private consultants from PwC presented various revenue projections showing new gross revenues the state could earn under the various expansion scenarios that had been proposed: $200-$234 million from the addition of a slots-only casino at National Harbor inPrince George's County; $246 million from the addition of a slots and table games casino at National Harbor with table games also approved for the five already authorized locations; and $253 million from the approval of table games only at the five already authorized locations.

Turner raised several concerns about relying on the projections: DLS and PwC were presenting different methodologies for judging a casino's market than they did during the 2007 process to legalize slots; the data was all presented under the assumption that the tax the state collects on slots revenues will remain at a rate of 67 percent (operators have been pushing for a lower tax rate); and that the 2007 revenue projections were significantly higher than what the state has collected to date on the two facilities (in Perryville and at the Ocean Downs race track) that have been open.

"We don't have to rush to judgment," Turner said. He explained that it would be "a good business decision" for the state to wait until all five facilities are open so it can use real numbers instead of projections.

A license for a facility adjacent to the Rocky Gap Lodge and Resort in western Maryland was awarded in April. The license for the fifth facility, slated to be located in downtown Baltimore, has not yet been awarded.


At the June 1 work group meeting, David Cordish, president of the Cordish Company, the developer of the $500 million Maryland Live! casino that opened June 6 at Arundel Mills mall in Anne Arundel County, expressed similar thoughts.

"Adding a new gaming site has never been done in the history of the United States ... until the (state's) initial designees are open and steady," he said.

Cordish said he built his facility — which is slated to have a total of 4,750 slot machines by the end of the year, making it the third-largest slots casino in the country — under the premise that there would not be another casino south of Anne Arundel County, at least in the foreseeable future.

If Maryland decides to change the rules in the middle of the game, Cordish said Maryland would be sending a message that it's a bad business partner.

"I think it's admirable that you think a deal is a deal," Turner told Cordish at the June 1 meeting.

Turner also told Cordish that he appreciates his commitment to honor the 67 percent tax. Any reduction to the state's cut of slots revenues, Turner said, will hurt the Education Trust Fund, horse racing purses and women- and minority-owned business — all of which receive a share of the tax.