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O’Malley calls August session to mull casino, table games in Maryland

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2012

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will call a special session of the General Assembly between Aug. 9 and Aug. 16 to discuss a sixth casino and allowing table games in the state.

Delegate Frank Turner, a Howard County Democrat who chairs the subcommittee that deals with gambling, confirmed Mr. O'Malley's plans Thursday. Mr. O'Malley, flanked by Speaker of the House Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. will formally announce the session in Annapolis Friday morning. Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, is the only person with the power to call a special session in Maryland.

On Wednesday, Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, held a closed-door meeting with House leadership to inform delegates that the governor will be calling the session, Mr. Turner said.

"He wanted us to be on notice and indicate to us that we're going to put out a work," Mr. Turner said.

Mr. Busch's spokeswoman, Alexandra Hughes, would not comment onthe subject of the meeting, saying only that Mr. Busch wanted to meet with his leadership team. About 30 people attended, she said.

At the session, the General Assembly will consider legislation that would start the process of establishing a sixth casino at National Harbor in Prince George's County and allowing table games like blackjack and roulette at all of the state's casinos.

If the General Assembly passes a bill, Marylanders will vote on the gambling expansion in November. The deadline for adding bills to the ballot is Aug. 20.

A draft of the legislation has not been written yet, Mr. Turner said, but various ideas are being discussed.

"I think we have an obligation to put out a product that people can vote on," Mr. Tuner said.

Mr. O'Malley put together a task force to recommend legislation to expand gambling in the state, but members could not come to a consensus. The governor has had a series of closed-door meetings about expanding gambling with legislators and local officials in the past few weeks.

"I think the speaker and governor will do what they can to get the bill out of the special session," Ms. Hughes said.

Mr. Turner said he did not know if the bill would get the support needed to pass. He said that it depends on its specific content, including tax rates on gambling revenue.

"The only thing that's been going around are basic concepts; got to have a bill first," Mr. Turner said.

The possibility of a special session focusing on expanding gambling was announced in April when the General Assembly's regular session ended with an impasse over gambling legislation.

Mr. O'Malley had originally suggested a gambling special session for July 9, but the power outages and recovery efforts after the June 29 derecho storm took priority.

Another special session was held in mid-May to finish the state budget.

One reason the gambling question was not resolved during the General Assembly's regular session is because House delegates could not reach a consensus on changing the 67 percent tax currently assessed on slot revenue.

Mr. Turner said he has some reservations about allowing a sixth casino, and that legislatorswould have to lower the overall tax rateif they vote to add it. Mr. Turner said he does not yet have a definitive opinion about what the tax rate should be.

"Las Vegas is 6 percent but, maybe as financially in trouble as they are, maybe they ought to have a higher tax rate." Mr. Turner said.

There has been some discussion by Mr. O'Malley ofgetting around the dispute by allowing a gaming commission to determine the tax rate instead.

Mr. Turner said the more he hears about the commission, the less he likes the idea of other people determining tax rates.

"I think we make a lot of decisions when it comes to taxes, income taxes, corporate taxes. ... It would just be another one of the taxes that we'd have to make," Mr. Turner said.

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican, said last week that leaving the tax decision to the commission "rides roughshod over the authority and responsibilities of the state's law-making branch of government."

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