Maryland Eyes Special Session to Tackle Gaming

With Pennsylvania about to become a major gambling state given the approval of slot machines at racetracks and other locations, Maryland lawmakers are discussing a possible special session to revisit gaming legislation.

Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller told the Baltimore Sun that Pennsylvania's move is a "wake-up call." He believes a special session will be called in August. "I expect a special session by August, and I expect a (slots) bill will pass by August," he told the newspaper.

House Speaker Michael Busch doesn't agree. He said an improving state economy has generated higher than expected revenues and has eased budget pressures.

Busch told the Sun he would consider a special session only if it were done for the limited purpose of authorizing a referendum in November to amend Maryland's constitution to allow for slot machines. Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and other slots supporters oppose that plan.

The governor believes it would be "poor public policy" to write slots into the state constitution, said Greg Massoni, an Ehrlich spokesman.

Maryland's Senate has voted narrowly in the past two legislative sessions to legalize slots, but the bills have stalled in the House. A recent bill called for gambling machines at only three of the state's tracks and at three non-track locations.

Maryland has three Thoroughbred tracks--Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, and the Maryland State Fair at Timonium. The two Standardbred tracks are Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs. A dual-breed track has been proposed for western Maryland near Cumberland.

Two states that border Maryland--Delaware and West Virginia--have racetracks with video lottery terminals. Such devices at tracks in neighboring Pennsylvania would intensify the competition.