- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2012

A consulting firm will present its findings Tuesday on the potential impact of expanded gambling in Maryland as lawmakers continue to discuss possible legislation to add table games and a sixth casino in the state.

Representatives from PricewaterhouseCoopers are expected to testify at the second meeting of the state’s Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion, a panel of lawmakers and executive-branch officials charged with deciding whether the General Assembly should pursue a gambling expansion bill at an expected special session next month.

State officials say the panel’s recommendation will be largely based on the firm’s findings.

Lawmakers have said the analysis will go a long way toward settling the debate between supporters who say a Prince George’s County casino will bring millions in revenue to the state, and opponents who say it will simply oversaturate the market and take business from casinos in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore.

“There wasn’t any real unbiased data that I could find during the session,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said last month. “I think there are a lot of questions that have to be answered. We’ll go through that and see where we end up.”

Maryland legalized gambling in 2008 when voters approved licenses for five slots casinos in the state. Facilities in Worcester, Cecil and Anne Arundel counties have opened, but sites in Allegany County and Baltimore are still in planning stages.

This year, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, joined his county’s officials in pushing for a casino in Prince George’s County, which likely would be built at National Harbor in an effort to capitalize on the site’s proximity to the District and Virginia.

Such legislation would have to be passed by the assembly and then approved in a referendum.Most officials appear on board with legalizing table games at all slots sites, but there are lingering concerns about how a Prince George’s facility would affect other sites — particularly Maryland Live, a $500-million casino that opened last week in Anne Arundel County.

David Cordish, president and chairman of the Cordish Co., which owns Maryland Live, told the work group earlier this month that a National Harbor casino could bite into or eliminate his site’s profits, and that the state should let its casinos get up and running before changing the game.

“No other state has ever tried to change the rules upon the original designees prior to their getting open and staying open,” Mr. Cordish said.

If lawmakers pursue a sixth casino, they likely will have to give operators a larger portion of revenues to keep them relatively happy. Operators currently receive 33 percent of slots revenues, with the rest going to the state. Most of that is used for education, with some going to local aid and other programs.

Some legislators have proposed raising the operators’ take to as much as 48 percent — if casino operators take on the responsibility of buying their own slot machines — and giving them 90 percent of table-game revenues.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is expected to provide revenue estimates for a sixth casino, calculate its impact on other sites and provide suggestions for possible tax rates.

The work group is expected to meet Tuesday and then again June 20 before deciding whether to recommend legislation for a special session.

State leaders say a special session likely will take place the week of July 9.

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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