ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — In an escalation of the battle over expanded gambling in Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley strongly criticized House of Delegates leaders for balking at a work group consensus on the issue while the House speaker said his chamber's representatives had strong feelings about lowering the state's tax on casino proceeds.
"The commission arrived at a consensus for moving forward to resolve issues around gambling in Maryland," O'Malley said in a statement late Thursday. "For some reason, the House leadership at the last minute decided they did not want to share in that consensus."
The Democratic governor's unusual criticism of the House leadership came a day after a work group charged with finding common ground on the issue announced Tuesday it could not reach an agreement that would justify O'Malley calling a special session of the Legislature.
The work group included House and Senate members and O'Malley aides. It was looking at whether to allow a sixth casino in Prince George's County and to permit table games such as blackjack at five already-approved casinos.
House Speaker Michael Busch invited reporters to his office Thursday afternoon to discuss the work group's failure to reach a consensus. The Anne Arundel Democrat said there was one major sticking point: House members on the panel didn't want to lower the state's 67 percent tax on casino proceeds.
A short time later, Busch invited reporters back to his office to elaborate. He then underscored that the work group was "98 percent" in agreement, except for the tax issue. He also emphasized that dialogue would continue to try to bridge the gap — a point that was not as clearly stated in the first session, despite repeated questions from reporters about the prospects of an eventual agreement.
"Look, I think in all fairness to the governor, to the other members of the General Assembly, you have to leave that door open to have that discussion," Busch said in the second session.
O'Malley's statement, released after the two meetings that Busch had with reporters, was uncharacteristic of the governor. O'Malley and Busch have mostly had an amiable working relationship during O'Malley's tenure, and the speaker was instrumental in passing legislation to allow same-sex marriage this year, a top O'Malley priority.
O'Malley, in his statement, pointed to resistance to allowing a casino in Prince George's County from the owners of Maryland's largest casino, which recently opened in Anne Arundel County. The Cordish Cos. says a casino in Prince George's would drain business away from their $500 million investment.
"Finding common ground will be difficult if House leadership has become invested in the notion that the Anne Arundel site should enjoy a virtual monopoly for as long as possible," said O'Malley, a Democrat.
The Anne Arundel location is next to Arundel Mills mall; the state is eyeing National Harbor along the Potomac River for the Prince George's site.
Cordish has complained that the state is considering a huge change in Maryland's gambling landscape, without having much of an idea of how well the state could support another large casino.