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Table games would help state compete, chief of Md. lottery panel says

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

ANNAPOLIS - Expanding gambling to allow table games would help Maryland compete with neighboring states that have legalized blackjack, roulette and other Las Vegas-style card games, the head of the state lottery commission said.

Legislation to add table games and a Prince George's County casino passed the state Senate on Tuesday, and is scheduled for a hearing before a House panel next week.

Donald C. Fry, chairman of Maryland's Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, said table games weren't a bad idea for the state to consider given how the gambling industry has changed since five sites for slot-machine parlors were chosen in 2008.

As early as last year, the commission warned state officials that the dynamics of gambling have been altered, he said.

"Since the time of the enactment of the law, things have changed in neighboring states," Fry told The Washington Examiner. "If Maryland was going to remain competitive and receive the type of revenue that it hopes to generate, the legislature needs to be cognizant of that fact."

Neighboring Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware all offer table games.

Fry said the commission was not advocating for table games, and refused to take a position on the other half of the gambling bill -- measures that would allow a sixth casino, at National Harbor or Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County. His comments were first reported in the Daily Record.

Simply allowing table games would add roughly $279 million in gross gambling revenues to state coffers, according to a Maryland Tax Education Foundation analysis, a nonprofit that studies the implications of state tax and spending policies.

But revenues from expanded gambling are complicated by new revenue structures in the Senate bill and the addition of a sixth casino, according to the report.

The tax foundation estimates that one-third of new revenue from the 4,750 new slots proposed at a National Harbor casino would come directly from money that would have been spent at Maryland Live at Arundel Mills mall in Anne Arundel County.

State gambling tax revenue would fall by about $20 million compared with a situation in which the state only adds table games to its repertoire, the foundation reported.

The cannibalization of casino revenues is a concern for industry experts, who say bringing thousands more slot machines to the Washington-Baltimore region will inundate gamblers. If the gambling bill passes the General Assembly and the November ballot, Maryland would have legalized 13,250 slots in a 50-mile stretch from Washington to Baltimore.

The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday, according to Del. Jolene Ivey, D-Prince George's County.

Some delegates remain concerned that it's too soon to change the rules, especially while casinos such as Maryland Live are just set to open.

The committee may consider some extra benefits for the Cordish Cos. -- the developers of Maryland Live -- in addition to the potential 11 percentage point bump in slots revenue for casino operators in the bill, Ivey said.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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