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Negotiators reach tentative deal to expand gambling throughout Md.

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Politics,Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Table games, sixth casino would be added to November ballot

ANNAPOLIS -- Legislation to expand gambling in Maryland will be considered in a special session, as the General Assembly late Monday night asked Gov. Martin O'Malley to authorize a special session.

Negotiators struck a late-hour deal to expand gambling in Maryland, which would allow voters to decide in November whether to add table games such as blackjack throughout the state and to add a sixth casino, to be located in Prince George's County.

The details
» Authorizes a voter referendum for a sixth casino site in Prince George's County
» Maintains 15,000 slot machines statewide
» Ensures a majority of Prince George's County voters approve a casino
» Caps the state's share of slots revenues at 60 percent
» Requires the Department of Legislative Services to hire a consultant to study the effect of slots in Prince George's

But the bill got held up late Monday night as the two chambers negotiated a budget package, and a final vote was not taken in either chamber.

The tentative agreement marked a victory for Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, who, after remaining silent on slots for months earlier in the year, made a full-blown push for a $1 billion casino at National Harbor, which county officials estimate could draw roughly $69 million in local revenues for Prince George's and even more for the state.

"This means hundreds of millions of dollars to the state," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., one of the main proponents of the bill.

Voters in November would decide if they want to allow a sixth casino site and add table games at all state casinos.

After facing strong opposition from delegates in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore -- the closest approved slots facilities to Prince George's County -- lawmakers added measures that satisfied enough wary delegates to pass votes with an easy majority in the House Committee on Ways and Means.

As part of the agreement, Maryland officials won't expand the number of slot machines allowed in the state -- the six potential sites would have 15,000 slots to split, up to 3,000 of which would be allowed at a Prince George's casino.

And a casino in the county couldn't open until July 1, 2016, or 30 months after a casino in Baltimore begins operating. The Anne Arundel slots casino is set to open in June.

The measure pleased Baltimore officials who feared that a Las Vegas-style facility in Prince George's would hurt gambling revenue at their planned site.

Other details of the casino in Prince George's County would have to be worked out next year, including whether table games could begin operating sooner at a temporary site. But Baker said simply passing a bill to allow a referendum was a push in the right direction.

"We're very comfortable and confident with the table games and the slots in there that we can get it to the high-end facility that we need in the county that will help generate money," he said.

The bill still includes a local voting provision for Prince George's -- if county voters reject the casino in the statewide referendum, the state Video Lottery Facility Location Commission would not award a license in the county. Gov. Martin O'Malley said he likely will sign the bill.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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