ANNAPOLIS -- Members of a state gambling commission are expected to recommend Wednesday that lawmakers move forward with plans to allow the expansion of gambling in Maryland, according to several sources familiar with the commission's negotiations.
The commission's report, which will be delivered to Gov. Martin O'Malley and Maryland House and Senate leaders after Wednesday's meeting, would outline a series of steps to allow table games such as blackjack and roulette at all state casinos and authorize a sixth casino site in Prince George's County, where developers have teamed with MGM Resorts International with the promise of an $800 million casino at National Harbor.
Some details of the plan were hammered out behind closed doors Monday, when the group reached agreements on the number of slot machines allowed -- no more than the current 15,000 cap -- and to levy a 20 percent tax on table game revenues, according to several sources.
|Group meets behind closed doors|
|Maryland's gambling commission was within its right to hold a closed-door meeting Monday, according to the state's Attorney General's Office.|
|Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Eastern Shore, objected to the private meeting of the commission, where lawmakers and state officials came to some terms on a gambling expansion.|
|But according to the Attorney General's Office, the commission is not a "public body" according to state law and is not subject to Maryland's Open Meetings laws. - Ben Giles|
Lawmakers also agree they want to abandon the state's practice of owning and leasing all slot machines and shift the burden to casino operators to save millions of dollars.
Left undecided is a change to the state's tax on slots. MGM and the Peterson Cos., developers of National Harbor, have asked for a more favorable tax rate than the 67 percent now collected by the state. So have casino operators at Ocean Downs, who say they are struggling to stay open.
The legislature could move forward to pass a referendum bill without including a new split of gambling revenues. Those details could be adjusted later in another bill, according to state attorneys.
Some lawmakers are still at odds over how much casino operators in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore should be compensated for business lost to a casino in Prince George's, which analysts predict would be Maryland's most lucrative.
The state Department of Legislative Services has been asked to prepare another round of calculations estimating the potential benefit to the state with the changes.
Analysts for the Peterson Cos. estimate the state could earn an extra $347 million annually under MGM's proposal.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel County, is scheduled to huddle with delegates serving on the gambling commission shortly before the group's Wednesday meeting. Drawing favor from Busch could be crucial for the passage of gambling legislation, which failed to gain enough votes in the House during its 90-day session.
"Certainly the speaker probably has more of an influence within his own House than anyone else," said House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore. "He'd be able to push it along somewhat, but only to a certain degree. Again, it's going to depend on what this whole thing looks like."