Lawmakers seek favors in exchange for gambling votes

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Baltimore delegates are looking for concessions in return for their votes in favor of expanding gambling in Maryland, an issue which will dominate the special legislative session that begins this week.

Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, said the Department of Legislative Services is preparing three bills related to school construction funding he plans to introduce on behalf of the Baltimore city delegation.

Convinced that Gov. Martin O'Malley has yet to secure enough votes to pass the gambling bill, Baltimore delegates are only willing to approve the legislation if their own bills pass the General Assembly as well, Anderson said.

"Nobody in Annapolis, from representatives to the Speaker's office to secretaries walking the hallways, believes there's enough votes for this bill," he told reporters on Friday. "If they know that, the governor probably knows that, too."

It's unclear how many other lawmakers are preparing bills to introduce during the special session, which is scheduled to begin on Thursday. Dozens of bills are being worked on at this time, according to legislative services staff, but some may not be introduced until the next regular 90-day session in January 2013, or may never be introduced at all.

Some Montgomery County council members, also convinced that the governor needs more votes, are wondering why their delegates aren't asking for anything in return for support of the gambling expansion. County Executive Ike Leggett announced his support for the bill in July, and some council members want assurances of new transportation funding for the county.

"I think it's distressing that we haven't had a conversation about what does Montgomery County get out of this," said Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large, at a legislative meeting in June. "It's kind of distressing that we could walk away with absolutely nothing."

House Speaker Michael Busch, who met with Democratic leadership in Annapolis on Friday, said there has been little discussion of any legislation beyond the gambling bill. Other lawmakers are wary of weighing down the gambling debate with demands.

And Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake warned city delegates against pushing too hard for concessions related to the gambling bill.

But Anderson said it's important delegates be prepared regardless.

"You can't negotiate something that doesn't exist."

Delegates so far have only met to ensure the governor's bill is amenable enough to pass a vote in their chamber, according to Busch. Concessions such as those being requested by Baltimore city lawmakers -- as well as some demands from developers of an Anne Arundel County casino, including the legalization of Internet gambling -- aren't a part of the debate, he said.

"The governor will put the bill in," Busch said. "We just want to make sure the things he has in the bill will be supported by the House."

As far as Internet gambling is concerned, "it'd be unfair for me to discuss something I know very little about," he said.

Terms of the bill were not made available to reporters, though Busch said the legislation must include efforts to protect county gambling revenues at existing casino sites and allow Prince George's County voters to have the final say in whether or not a casino should be built in their jurisdictions.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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Ben Giles

Staff Writer - Crime Beat
The Washington Examiner