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Committee Passes Bill To Expand Gambling In Md.; Senate To Vote On The Measure On Friday

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McCorkel Meghan 370x278 (2) Meghan McCorkell
Meghan McCorkell joined the Eyewitness News team in July 2011 as a...
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ/AP)— One hurdle is cleared in the governor’s push to expand gambling across the state. But some lawmakers and casino operators are pushing back against the controversial bill.

Meghan McCorkell has more on the showdown underway in Annapolis.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee approved the governor’s gambling expansion. But this fight is far from over.

The passion over a bill to expand gambling evident both outside.

“And we are sick and tired of legislators that would try to force a casino down our throats,” Rev. Jonathan Weaver of the Greater Mt. Nebo A.M.E. Church said.

And inside the packed Senate hearing room:

“It will create jobs and put people to work sooner rather than later,” Joseph Bryce, the chief legislative officer at the Office of the Governor, said.

At issue: The governor’s plan to allow table games at casinos statewide and to approve a sixth casino in Prince George’s County.

On Thursday night, a Senate committee approved the new gambling bill with just one dissenting vote from Sen. James DeGrange from Anne Arundel County where Maryland Live! Casino just opened.

“Changing the rules. I don’t think it sends a good message to the business community,” DeGrange (D) said.

The bill would offer tax breaks to Maryland Live! and the proposed Baltimore City casino. While it appears the Senate has shown its hand, Republicans warn it’s not a sure thing.

“I don’t think it’s a done deal,” Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford and Cecil counties) said.

“Tomorrow is the day the bill hits the floor. There’s a lot of questions on this bill. The process to this point has stunk,” Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-District 36), the Senate minority leader, said.

The full Senate will vote on the bill on Friday. Then, it will head here to the House of Delegates where it is expected to be a fight.

“I’m confident that we have a better work product because of the input from the House than we’ve ever had before. I’m hopeful that we have the votes in the House,” O’Malley said.

A big bet as opponent vow they’re not bluffing about a battle. A vote in the House may not come until early next week.

Even if the General Assembly approves the gambling expansion, it would still be put in the ballot in November for voters to ultimately decide.

The gambling measure would lower the state’s 67 percent tax rate on gambling proceeds by varying degrees for the five casinos currently allowed in the state and for the new casino.

The bill would also allow casinos to keep six percent more revenue if they buy or lease slot machines. Currently, the state must own the machines, a provision in the law that has cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

A casino in Anne Arundel County and a planned casino in Baltimore would get an additional five percent of the proceeds, which would have to be spent on marketing and capital improvements. Political contributions from gambling entities would be banned. Casinos could be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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