Maryland House Wrangling on Slots

Maryland House Wrangling on Slots
Photo: Jimmy McCue
Laurel Park could be a benefactor if slots legislation is passed in Maryland.

The Maryland House of Delegates put off voting on whether the state should have a referendum on slot-machine gambling after a day of changes in the proposal Nov. 15. The issue is on the agenda when the House reconvenes Nov. 16.

The House Ways and Means Committee went from deciding to embrace the Senate’s proposal to amending its own version. The amended House version created its own way to consider future expansions to gambling.

Under the House bill, any future expansion of gambling would require a referendum. However, it would only take a majority vote, instead of a three-fifths vote by lawmakers, to put an expansion of gambling on the ballot.

The House appeared poised to try to pass its own version, holding a Senate bill that already has been passed in reserve, but Republicans asked for time to redraft amendments to the House bill, which they didn’t anticipate needing.

The amendment passed by the House Ways and Means Committee relates to how lawmakers would go about approving a future expansion of slots. It also concerns future additions to the number of machines and the kinds of games that could be added, such as blackjack and poker.

The House needs a three-fifths majority vote (85 of 141 votes) for a referendum to let voters decide in November 2008 whether to legalize up to 15,000 slot machines.

The decision to delay the vote until today capped a difficult day in a special session punctuated by chaotic moments. Gov. Martin O’Malley called the special session to address a budget deficit last estimated at $1.5 billion.

Earlier Nov. 15, the Ways and Means Committee voted 13-7 to go along with a Senate bill that calls for five locations initially proposed by O’Malley. They include Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County and Ocean Downs in Worcester County.

The House committee’s vote on the amendment came after a subcommittee decided against pushing for two new slot machine sites in Frederick and Harford counties.

Delegate Frank Turner, a Democrat who heads the subcommittee, said the Senate’s referendum plan was embraced because it appeared to have the best chance for passage. Turner said a site in Frederick County might have been better positioned to recapture slots revenue leaving Maryland for West Virginia, but overall support didn’t seem as strong for the new locations.

As a result, the House was poised to vote on a measure including proposed sites in Anne Arundel, Cecil, and Worcester counties; in Baltimore; and on state property at the Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort near Cumberland in western Maryland.

 

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