Md. gambling bill far from a sure bet as progress stalls

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ANNAPOLIS — Democratic House of Delegates leaders spent hours at a time Monday huddled in closed-door meetings working to finalize changes to a bill to expand gambling in the state, ending the day with little progress toward legislation that could get enough votes to pass the body.

Despite the long delays, the House Ways and Means Committee voted Monday night to approve amendments that would give extra revenue to the Maryland Live casino in Anne Arundel County and to a planned site in Baltimore, in hopes of shielding them from lost business if a sixth gambling site is built in Prince George’s County.

Lawmakers were optimistic that the changes would make the bill stronger when floor debate is expected to start Tuesday.

“Things are starting to move,” said Delegate Frank S. Turner, Howard Democrat and chairman of the Ways and Means gambling subcommittee. “We’re looking for fairness. We need for all of these [casinos] to be financially sound.”

The bill, which passed the Senate last week, would allow table games at the state’s five slots casinos and at a sixth facility in Prince George’s County, pending approval in a November referendum.

Maryland Live owners and Anne Arundel officials have opposed the legislation out of concern that the sixth site — which would likely be built at National Harbor or Rosecroft Raceway — would take visitors from their facility, which opened in June.

The committee passed an amendment Monday that would give the Anne Arundel and Baltimore sites an added cushion, letting Maryland Live keep 41 percent of its total slots revenue and allowing Baltimore operators to keep 40 percent of theirs.

The committee also agreed to give Anne Arundel an additional 8 percent of slots revenue in order to purchase its own machines. The bill would have previously given the casino 6 percent.

Members also made other changes, including barring a Prince George’s casino license holder from setting up temporary table games during construction of a permanent facility, and allowing the House speaker and Senate president to recommend members of a new gambling commission rather than letting the governor appoint them without input.

“We want to be thorough in whatever decision we make,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat. “This is the first time we’ve been able to have our imprint put upon a piece of legislation.”

Despite the amendments, members of Baltimore’s House delegation said Monday they are unlikely to support the bill unless additional changes are made.

Lawmakers have said in recent days that supporters do not yet have enough votes to pass the legislation.

The city’s 18-member delegation — and its concerns about the success of the yet-to-be-built city casino — will have a key role in deciding whether the bill passes the 141-member chamber.

“We have to make sure that they are all successful,” Mr. Turner said. “We have to do some adjustments or else we’re going to end up with … facilities that are not going to be very successful.”

Members of the delegation successfully proposed the temporary table game amendment Monday, as well as one that would split the city government’s share of table games revenue between school construction and community centers.

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