Mayor makes casino pitch to city delegation

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake took her case for cutting a deal that will bring table games to a planned downtown casino to the city's House delegation last night, telling lawmakers the legislation expected to be considered in a special session next week will put cash-strapped Baltimore on the path to increased revenue.

Meeting with the all-Democratic delegation at the recreation department headquarters at Druid Hill Park, the mayor urged the lawmakers to put aside their desire to use what is expected to be a closely contested vote for maximum leverage.  But she asked them to also consider the $45-$50 million in additional revenue the city expects to gain each year if table games are approved.

"I know this can be a valuable vote," she said. "I know that votes like this don't happen often in a legislative career."

The mayor's personal appearance followed a letter she sent to the delegation Tuesday urging lawmakers not to use the vote to leverage support on unrelated topics such as school construction. Rawlings-Blake said last night that the additional casino revenue in itself would help with the city's problem with rundown school facilities.

"I don't want us on the other side of a special session looking at a lot of things we didn't get," she said.

Lawmakers will gather next Thursday in Annapolis for a special session called by Gov.Martin O'Malley to consider a bill allowing a new casino -- expected to be the state's sixth -- inPrince George's County and to permit table games at all of the state's casinos.  For now, only slots are permitted at the state's five licensed casinos, three of which are now open.

Despite the mayor's plea for a deal, some Baltimore delegation members remain skeptical of its wisdom, while others expressed a continued interest in using the gambling issue to advance other causes.

Dels. Frank M. Conaway Jr. and  Nathaniel Oaks said it would be better to approve table games without a sixth casino.

"Somebody has linked it to the sixth casino. The table games don't have to be linked to the sixth casino," Conaway said.

But Del. Maggie McIntosh, a veteran lawmaker who holds a powerful post in House leadership, laid out the political realities in stark terms, pointing out that Baltimore's hopes for table games are in the hands of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has the clout to stop a gambling bill he opposes dead in its tracks.

"We have a president of  the Senate who will not pass table games unless we have a sixth site," she said.

When some delegation members complained that Miller's position amounted to "hostage-taking," the mayor took a pragmatic view.

"Everybody's trying to get something," she said. "This isn't hostage-taking. This is negotiation."

Rawlings-Blake said she was happy with the response she received from the delegation, even if she didn't secure commitments to back her position.

"My request to the delegation was that they keep an open mind and consider not just what it could cost but what there is to be gained, and I'm pleased they seem to be keeping an open mind," she said.

Anderson, who has advocated typing the gambling issue to that of school construction, didn't concede his position but said the mayor had made some "valid points."

"We're not obligated to follow her lead but certainly her suggestions will form the basis of our positions," Anderson said.

But Oaks said that if the delegation can't reach a consensus and come up with enough votes in a relatively short time,  the effort going into the special session could be "all for naught."

"Time is against us," he said. "Time is not on our side."