- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2012

The chances of Maryland lawmakers spending next week in a special session shrank more on Thursday, as Gov. Martin O'Malley continued to focus his attention on the weather and fellow legislators remained as much in the dark about plans as some of their constituents did in their homes.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Mr. O'Malley, said in an email to The Washington Times that “there is no news today,” adding that the governor’s priority was the high heat advisory — the extreme temperatures have only been compounded by power outages caused by last weekend’s derecho storm.

Talk of a special session to expand gambling in the state has been ongoing since the General Assembly adjourned its regular session with a backlog of unfinished business, roundly blamed on a lack of consensus on gambling expansion. Mr. O'Malley had said that there could be a special session called primarily to address the issue, and state leaders had expected it to take place the week of July 9.

The odds of a midsummer special session began to diminish roughly two weeks ago, when a work group appointed to draft a bill to add a sixth casino in National Harbor and allow table games at casinos statewide failed to come to an agreement.

Without a draft bill to propose from the task force of lawmakers and administration officials, some observers thought that the special session may not take place. Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, has sole power to call a special session. He has not publicly ruled out the possibility of a July 9 special session, and has reportedly been in closed-door talks about gambling with House of Delegates leadership during the last week.

Despite ongoing discussions, lawmakers still do not know if they will be working in Annapolis next week.

Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch, said there had been “no word on whether there would be a session or not.”

As for the meetings earlier this week between her boss, an Anne Arundel Democrat, and Mr. O'Malley, Ms. Hughes said they weren’t “indicative of anything.”

On the other side of the State House, a woman who picked up the office phone for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, had this to say about any announcements about a special session next week: There were “none that we’ve been made aware of.”

If there is no special session next week, there is still an opportunity to consider gambling expansion, though the window is closing. In order to allow a sixth casino and table games, a bill that passes the General Assembly and gets the governor’s signature must then be approved by a majority of voters in a statewide referendum. The deadline for the Maryland secretary of state to certify ballot language is the third Monday in August, meaning any ballot question to be considered in the November elections would need to be approved by Aug. 20.

Mr. O'Malley has already called one special session this year, in mid-May to address the budget.

As the purported special session date looms, interests on both sides of the casino proposal launched television and radio ads to gin up support.

The Building Traders for the National Harbor tout the casino as “one of the biggest new job projects in the country” in a television ad. The ad warns voters that they won’t have the chance to decide on getting millions of dollars for schools and teachers if their legislators don’t put the issue on the ballot.

In a written statement that appeared online, the Prince George’s County Contractors and Business Association suggested a connection between MGM Resorts International — the company eager to build the casino if it is approved — and organized crime. Looking at the decision of Milt Peterson, National Harbor developer, to work with the casino group, Contractors and Business Association Chairman Joe Gaskins stated that “there are many reputable operators in the country to choose from, yet Mr. Peterson chooses the one with the most questionable background.” He goes on to call it “unthinkable.”

While the impact of these ads on the general population is unclear, Ms. Guillory said that they haven’t swayed Mr. O'Malley’s opinion about a special session.

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