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Md. House Panel Lowers Taxes For 2 Casino Sites

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland House of Delegates committee voted 13-7 on Monday night to expand gambling in the state to allow table games such as blackjack and a Washington-area casino, setting up a vote by the full House on Tuesday.

The vote came after the panel changed the measure to lower the amount of taxes that two casinos — an existing one in Anne Arundel County and a planned complex in Baltimore — would have to pay. The move is aimed at offsetting the economic impact of competition from a future new casino near the nation’s capital.

All 13 supporters on the Ways and Means Committee were Democrats. Six Republicans and one Democrat opposed the gambling expansion.

Supporters said the state stands to net more than $200 million annually after full implementation, and they touted a new Prince George’s County casino as a prime location to draw money from both Washington and neighboring Virginia.

“This is a smart move geographically-speaking for the state of Maryland,” said Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery.

Opponents said the decision was being rushed in a special summer session with insufficient data to understand how the new casino would affect others in the state. The expansion would require voter approval, and Republican Delegate Kathy Afzali of Frederick said the rush could erode support at the ballot box in November.

“I would just like to say in closing that rushing this through could be the death of this bill,” she said near the end of a late voting session.

The committee’s vote sends the bill to the full House of Delegates, which will take up the measure on Tuesday and push toward a close of the special session that began on Thursday. It’s unclear whether the session could conclude Tuesday night.

The Senate already has passed a bill, and senators would have to approve changes made by the House for the measure to pass.

One of the biggest changes made by the House panel relates to lowering the tax rate for the new Maryland Live! casino in Anne Arundel County — the state’s largest casino. The tax rate would also be cut for a planned casino in Baltimore, where Caesars Entertainment has secured a license to build a casino near Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.

Under the Senate bill, the two casinos would have paid 5 percent less in state taxes, with the rebate set aside for advertising and capital improvements. The House committee, however, lowered that to 8 percent less for Maryland Live! and 7 percent less for the Caesars casino. Supporters say the change was made to offset added competition from the Prince George’s County casino, which could be at National Harbor along the Potomac River. MGM Resorts International has expressed interest in building a casino there.

Maryland now has a 67 percent tax rate on slot machine proceeds, an unusually high amount.

In effect, the changes represent an advance on an additional 5-percent tax cut the two casinos could have requested later. Under the change, Maryland Live! could still ask for an additional 2-percent tax cut later, and the Baltimore casino could ask for a 3-percent reduction. The cuts would have to be approved by a state commission.

In addition, Maryland Live! would get an added tax advantage. If the casino takes over ownership of slot machines there, it would have its tax rate reduced 8 percent more, instead of 6 percent provided in the Senate measure. Other larger casinos in the state would be able to get a 6 percent reduction for taking on ownership of the machines.

Supporters said Maryland Live! would get more, because the Cordish Cos., which owns the casino, can’t get slot machines as cheaply as the other larger casinos in the state, which are owned by companies with casinos in other parts of the country, like MGM, Caesars and Penn National Gaming, which owns the casino in Perryville.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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