Too many slot machines?

Maryland can’t get its slot machines in fast enough. Pennsylvania, it seems, has the opposite problem.

The owners of Mount Airy Casino Resort have won approval from state regulators to actually reduce the number of slot machines by 150, to 2,275.

It seems the resort in the Poconos is suffering from a microcosm of the problem Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino (who is, as I type this, going over the results of the test run at what will be Maryland’s second casino) warned us about in September. He stopped by The Daily Record just days before Hollywood Casino Perryville opened in Cecil County.

“At some point in time, everybody is going to start cannibalizing from everybody else,” Martino said. “Certainly that’s what you’re seeing in Atlantic City. Atlantic City is distressed. Their numbers are down significantly.”

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Md. Speaker Busch makes House committee appointments

The leadership of the House committees that oversee taxes and legal issues will have a new look in the 2011 legislative session, according to committee rosters Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, released Wednesday.

Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, who had been vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee since 2004, will take the equivalent post on the Ways and Means Committee. The tax-setting committee will still be chaired by Del. Sheila E. Hixson, the Montgomery County Democrat who has held the post since 1993.

Taking Rosenberg’s position on Judiciary will be Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery. The move will bring some gender balance to Judiciary after the women’s caucus criticized Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. for his “tyrannical leadership.”

Dumais, who has served on Judiciary since she joined the House in 1993, was critical of the treatment of witnesses before the committee.

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat who has served on Judiciary since 2003, said some delegates “have been disrespectful” to citizens and “can get into a cross-examination mode that I don’t think is appropriate.”

But she defended the chairman as a man committed to his job and to giving everyone – committee members and citizens alike – a chance to speak out.

The committee will also have eight new members, all of them new to the General Assembly. They are:

  • Tiffany Alston, D-Prince George’s
  • Sam Arora, D-Montgomery
  • Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City
  • John Cluster, R-Baltimore County
  • Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico and Worcester
  • Keiffer Mitchell, D-Baltimore City
  • Neil Parrott, R-Washington
  • Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s

Economic Matters, which oversees business regulation legislation, will have seven new members, all but one of them veteran lawmakers.

  • Del. Benjamin Barnes, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel
  • Del.-elect Steve Hershey, R-Middle Shore
  • Del. Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery
  • Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, D-Montgomery
  • Del. Steven R. Schuh, R-Anne Arundel
  • Del. Kelly Schulz, R-Frederick
  • Del. Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s

Mike Leach gets Mike Miller’s vote

After chatting with Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. last week about the upcoming legislative session, the $1.6 billion budget deficit and the debates on taxes, gay marriage and the death penalty, the conversation shifted to a topic that that has gotten considerably more attention recently.

Who will replace Ralph Friedgen as the University of Maryland’s football coach?

For Miller, a Maryland grad and a staunch supporter of the school, the answer is simple.

“I personally support Mike Leach,” said Miller. Leach, the former head coach at Texas Tech, has been spending his time in Key West since leaving that program. There, according to Fox Sports, the pirate-obsessed Leach hangs out with a guy named “Weed” and has run-ins with sharks.

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Md. pension commission to vote next week

A state commission is poised to vote next week on changes to the state’s retirement and health care benefits to recommend to the legislature after getting a four-month crash course in the underfunded benefits system.

“These are decisions that impact people for decades, for the last decades of their lives,” said Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. “We want to do this right.”

The Public Employees’ and Retirees’ Benefit Sustainability Commission got a rundown of the options available to them Monday morning. Among the changes likely left on the cutting-room floor are freezing cost-of-living adjustments for retirees’ pensions and a switch to defined contribution plans like 401(k)’s.

Freezes, legislative analysts explained, would be illegal, and defined contribution plans, too costly.

“You can make it cost neutral, but only by paying a truly substandard benefit,” said Warren G. Deschenaux, the legislature’s top fiscal analyst.

“The numbers don’t work out,” Kopp said after the meeting. A former legislator, Kopp is also vice chair of the board that oversees the pension and retiree health care system.

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Ocean Downs to resume harness racing in 2011

There will be horse racing in Maryland next year. The questions are how much, what kind and where?

As the future of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, the state’s two thoroughbred tracks, is anything but certain, a little certainty is returning the Ocean Downs.

The Maryland Racing Commission granted the harness track outside of Ocean City a 40-day live racing meet for next summer that will follow a schedule similar to 2009.

Ocean Downs canceled its meet this year and held only four weekends of stakes races to accommodate the construction of a track-side casino. With Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County closed and its parent company in bankruptcy, Ocean Downs is the only working harness track in the state.

The casino — it would be the state’s second — is scheduled to open in the first days of 2011, with a test run scheduled for the end of December.

The grand opening is about seven months later than the track’s management had planned. Asbestos and corroded structural steel in the building being renovated to hold the 750 slot machines delayed the Memorial Day weekend kickoff.