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Md. General Assembly OKs Gambling Expansion Bill

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland General Assembly early Wednesday passed a measure to allow a new casino in Prince George’s County as well as table games such as poker and roulette at gambling halls.

After the House of Delegates passed the bill 71-58 late Tuesday night, the Senate concurred early Wednesday and passed the measure by a vote of 32-14. The vote sends the measure to Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has scheduled a bill signing for Wednesday.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a driving force behind the measure, said Maryland stands to reap great benefits from the new casino site.

“This is an ideal site,” Miller, D-Calvert, said after the measure was passed. “It’s immediately adjacent to Washington D.C. Conventioneers coming to Washington, D.C., will come to Prince George’s County to play these machines.”

The measure would also significantly lower the state’s high tax rate on slot machine gambling at two casino sites, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore, to offset the financial impact of the future Prince George’s casino.

Critics said casino owners were the real winners.

“To me, it’s all about making room for another pig at the gambling trough,” said Delegate Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel. “The problem is that while all the casino pigs are getting fat, there’s barely going to be a crumb left to benefit the people when they’re done.”

But supporters said the nearly $200 million in added extra revenue a year once the program is fully implemented will be far from insignificant.

“Two-hundred million dollars is not a crumb,” said Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery.

State analysts estimate the state’s education trust fund would get about $174 million in added revenue in fiscal year 2017, assuming a license has been awarded for the Prince George’s casino. That’s about $32 million less than the initial Senate bill would have provided. The revenue would rise to $199 million in fiscal year 2019. In the next fiscal year, the state would get about $60 million more.

The House amended the measure Tuesday night to allow veterans’ groups to have five instant pull tab gambling machines at their facilities, with the veterans and the state splitting the money at first before the profits are allocated to a state veterans fund after 2014.

A key part of the bill lowers the state’s 67-percent tax rate to varying degrees for the state’s casinos, partly to offset added competition from a new casino in Prince George’s County and also to divest the state from purchasing expensive slot machines.

Voters would have to approve the gambling expansion in November. Voters in Prince George’s County would need to approve the new casino site. If the ballot question passes statewide but not in Prince George’s County, table games would be allowed — but not a new casino.

Speculation has focused on the National Harbor complex along the Potomac River, which is close to Washington and northern Virginia.

One of the biggest changes made by the House 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.

The tax rate for Maryland Live! would be lowered by 8 percentage points. The rate for the planned Caesars casino would drop 7 percentage points.

Maryland casinos also would get an additional tax rate cut, if they agree to take over ownership of slot machines.
Maryland Live! would get a further tax rate reduction of 8 percentage points for buying the machines. Other casinos would get a 6 percentage-point rate cut.

The changes mean Maryland Live! would keep 49 percent of the money generated by the casino, instead of 33 percent. The Baltimore casino would keep 46 percent.

Maryland Live! could later seek an additional 2 percent with approval from a new commission, and Baltimore could seek 3 percent more.

Supporters of the bill say Maryland Live! is getting the higher tax reductions, because it would be closer to the new casino, and the Cordish Cos., which owns the Anne Arundel County casino, can’t purchase slot machines as cheaply as the owners of the state’s other larger casinos.

The measure also enables Maryland casinos — the Prince George’s site would be the sixth allowable location — to be open 24 hours. The bill also reshapes the current State Lottery Agency and the State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

Meanwhile, lawmakers failed to reconcile differences on a measure to address dog-biting liability, prompted by a ruling by the state’s highest court in April that determined pit bulls to be “inherently dangerous.” The ruling means that in an attack involving a pit bull, plaintiffs in civil lawsuits don’t have to prove the animal’s prior violent behavior for the owner to be held liable for damages. The ruling also means landlords can be held liable in such cases.

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

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