- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A special General Assembly session to discuss a potential casino in Prince George’s County and statewide table games is not off the table, but some General Assembly members were unwilling to gamble on the final outcome of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s efforts to resolve the gambling issues.

At the beginning of the week, Mr. O’Malley touted productive closed-door meetings with state and local leaders to discuss the possibility of a session.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Mr. O’Malley, said in an email to The Washington Times on Tuesday that “conversations are positive and ongoing.” Mr. O’Malley recently told reporters that the chances for a special session were around 50 percent, an improvement from two weeks ago when the derecho storm fallout had the full attention of the governor.

On Monday, Mr. O’Malley met with Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. He hosted breakfast at his residence Tuesday for House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., after which Mr. Miller said there were no conclusions.

Alexandra Hughes, spokeswoman for Mr. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said her boss’ comment “speaks for itself.” She said members had not been polled to determine whether they would be in town for a special session.

A spokesman for Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, said “we don’t really know anything more than yesterday,” referencing Monday’s meeting between the governor and county executives.

Barry Hudson, spokesman for Prince George’s County, said Mr. Baker “remains optimistic that the governor will be able to call this session.”

The special session to consider the new casino and allowing table games at the state’s other casinos was originally brought up after the regular session abruptly ended in April. The General Assembly ran out of time during the regular session to finish its business, not even completing a budget, and leaders said the reason for the loose ends was a lack of consensus over a gambling expansion.

The governor first suggested a July 9 start for a special session. But, a week earlier, the storm struck the D.C. area, turning attention from consideration of a special session to solving power outages and issuing heat advisories.

Should Mr. O’Malley call a special session — he is the only one with the power to do so in Maryland — the agenda would include the possibility of a 6th casino being built at National Harbor and of expanding table games to the state’s other casinos.

He already called one special session in mid-May to tie up the budget.

News of Mr. O’Malley’s meetings this week about a special session spread quickly across the state, prompting dubious comments from some legislators, and additional meetings and advertisements from stakeholders.

Delegate Frank S. Turner, Howard Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee that deals with gambling legislation, said he hadn’t been notified about a final decision on a special session, and assumed the governor “is waiting to see” how future meetings progress.

“I haven’t heard of anything changing,” Mr. Turner said. “I haven’t been called.”

Mr. Turner said the going wouldn’t be easy for the governor.

“There are a lot of barriers that need to be moved,” he said, pointing to some casino critics in Prince George’s County.

“They also have the problem with the logistics of who’s not going to be in town and who is going to be,” Mr. Turner said.

The Prince George’s County Contractors and Business Association put in its two cents, releasing a 30-second video on YouTube instructing viewers to tell their representatives to say no to a special session and asking “Why the rush?” on the casino project.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake scheduled a meeting for Wednesday with state legislators to discuss the potential bill, spokesman Ryan O’Doherty said. Baltimore is in line to get its own casino, and state officials could grant a license to develop it to a group led by Caesar’s Entertainment, the sole bidder, at the end of this month. Mr. O’Doherty added that the expansion of table games “would support local jobs, education funding and property tax reduction” for Baltimore City homeowners. Officials from Caesar’s have said they support table games in Maryland.

If the special session produces a bill for the sixth casino and gaming expansion, the proposed legislation would be added to the November ballot for voters to consider. The Maryland secretary of state certifies ballot language on the third Monday in August, meaning any bill up for a vote must be approved this year by Aug. 20

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