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Games Being Played In The General Assembly
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April 26, 2012
Governor Martin O’Malley and legislative leaders struggle to reach the consensus they need to avoid “doomsday” cuts in the state budget, but the gambling dispute that blew up the recent General Assembly session threatens the process. WYPR’s Karen Hosler reports.
Governor Martin O’Malley’s effort to separate budget and tax issues from a gambling dispute by calling for two special General Assembly sessions in the next few months is drawing mixed reviews in Annapolis.
House Speaker Michael Busch is enthusiastic. He says putting off a decision on expanded gambling in Maryland would allow time for a study of the impact of a sixth casino site in Prince Georges County, as well as a look at how profit splits could best be designed.
“The big question obviously is the sixth site, and if you do have a sixth site how do you mitigate the loss of the other operators in that geographic area? And if you can mitigate some of that, I think in the area of fairness and balance, you could vote for that, put it on the ballot and the people either vote it up or down in November.”
But others--including allies of Senate President Mike Miller speaking privately—suspect stalling tactics. Republican state Senator Joe Getty of Carroll County sees history repeating itself.
“This is a 10-year grudge match that has existed between the Senate President Mike Miller and the Speaker of the House Michael Busch. President Miller has always wanted a Prince Georges County location going back to 2003 when the original proposal was Governor Ehrlich’s slots at the race track. And through various techniques Speaker Busch has been able to block that for the last 10 years.”
Busch also called for a study in 2003, Getty said. The result was a finding that Prince Georges County was the most potentially lucrative site for slots in the state.
“But I saw that as a blocking technique. A good way to stonewall a legislative initiative is to say, ‘Well, we need a study’.”
Senator Miller was not available for comment on the issue. But an aide said he supports a study.
The right research could actually be helpful in building support for a new gambling site in Prince Georges County if it suggests how to protect other operators. David Cordish, whose company is opening the Maryland Live! slots parlor at Arundel Mills Mall in June, is among the leading opponents of another casino nearby. Legislators from Baltimore are similarly concerned about creating unwelcome competition for a casino to be located in the city.
The House speaker has never been a fan of gambling. But he argued that if the state is going to add to its current facilities and potentially add table games, the job shouldn’t be done piecemeal. He expects a resolution this year.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest—if the data comes back appropriately—that you go forward.”
That sounds, though, like a big “if.”
I’m Karen Hosler, reporting from Annapolis, for 88.1 WYPR.
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