Casinos don’t let storm stop spending on Question 7

Sandy’s impending arrival in Maryland did not stop a company desperately fighting to defeat Maryland’s expanded gambling law from dumping more than $6 million into its campaign account Monday, according to state campaign finance records.

Penn National Gaming Inc. has now put $35.5 million into its ballot issue committee, Get the Facts – Vote No on 7. The committee has spent $35.1 million of that on television advertising and other campaign-related materials and expenses.

On the other side, For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc. reported Monday that it had spent a total of $34.4 million to support gambling expansion, which includes allowing a casino in Prince George’s County and legalizing table games such as poker at every state casino.

MGM Resorts International Inc. has contributed $29.5 million of that money. The Nevada-based company wants to build a resort casino at National Harbor.

Voters will decide whose money was better spent on Nov. 6.

Eye Opener: Long lines for early voting

Quickly, before the storm hits, here’s a few government, politics and election items from publications around the state:

State politicians, agencies prepare for Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy's path as of Friday afternoon. (Graphic: National Weather Service)

There may be nothing that sends government agencies and elected officials to their email lists with greater haste — and rightly so — than an impending natural disaster.

As Hurricane Sandy apparently bears down on the East Coast, with landfall expected early next week and many fearing power outages and floods, some inboxes have been flooded in advance of the weather system’s impact.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Friday she’d help distribute free sand and sandbags for city residents in low-lying areas subject to flooding.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office, after announcing the governor had declared a state of emergency, pointed out that O’Malley’s plan to vote early on Monday could be impacted by inclement weather.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke has urged constituents on her constituent list to email her if they are in trouble over the weekend.

Meanwhile, state transportation agencies from the Maryland Port Administration to the Maryland Transit Administration have warned that high winds and rain could directly impact normal operations at the port and on the MTA’s various mass transportation lines.

Then there’s the power companies.

Baltimore Gas & Electric and Pepco have both sent emails and posted information to their website, preparing customers for the possibility of mass outages.

“Tens or even hundreds of thousands of customers could lose power during this potentially catastrophic event,” Pepco’s website says.

And, to bring it back to politics, that’s where a number of Montgomery County lawmakers come in. In a letter sent on behalf of 15 members of the General Assembly, the legislators seek answers to a number of questions asked to gauge Pepco’s readiness for the storm.

“We have learned from past experience to ask questions before the storm hits so we have some measure of comfort knowing that preparations are underway for what will follow,” the letter says, citing outages caused by a freak June 29 storm and last year’s Hurricane Irene.

“Our constituents have expressed a strong desire for better reliability and improved transparency and service accuracy from their power provider,” the letter continues. “While we recognize that severe storms and resulting power outages cannot be entirely prevented, we believe better preparation and preparedness before a severe storm strikes our region will improve reliability.”

Power grid reliability is one issue — overall safety is another. That’s why the State Highway Administration, after already experiencing a false start last weekend, will again postpone its plans to replace the West Nursery Road Bridge that runs over Route 295 south of Baltimore.

Everyone is hoping, of course, that the storm causes minimal disruptions and that long-term power outages are avoided.

If they’re not? Well, we may see the one thing that sends agencies and politicians to their email lists even more quickly.

Eye Opener: Question 6 supporters call on Obama

The expected closing date on a deal in which University of Maryland Medical System would buy St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson has come and gone, and ongoing talks between federal and state officials about a unique Medicare payment system in Maryland have emerged as the primary cause for delay.

Here’s a few other government and election related headlines for Friday:

Frosh: Majority of Senate would support fracking moratorium

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, speaks with Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, who chairs the committee that has dealt with hydraulic fracturing legislation in the last two years.

A majority of the state Senate would support a legislative moratorium on hydraulic fracturing if such a bill is released from committee, Sen. Brian E. Frosh said Wednesday.

The Montgomery County Democrat, a likely candidate for attorney general in 2014, joined Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, in voicing his support for a bill that would give force of law to a moratorium enacted through an executive order given by Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2011.

Hydraulic fracturing is a drilling technique that involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals a mile deep and then drilling horizontally for a mile in potentially every direction in the Marcellus Shale, a rock-encased natural gas formation that runs beneath much of Garrett and part of Allegany counties.

Fracking-related legislation has failed to move out of the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in the last two sessions of the General Assembly.

“We’ve got to convince the committee that it’s the right thing to do,” said Frosh, who was the Senate sponsor of one ill-fated fracking bill this year. “I think we’ve got a majority of the Senate that will go for us if we can get a favorable committee report.”

Raskin, who plans to join the fracking fray in 2013, said lawmakers may be more focused on the issue this year than they have been in the past.

“The Senate is a cautious, deliberative body for a reason,” Raskin said. “I think there are lots of members of the General Assembly who are just tuning into this discussion now.”

Del. Heather R. Mizeur, another Montgomery County Democrat who may have higher-office aspirations, sponsored a bill that passed through the House of Delegates last year that would have imposed a per-acre fee on natural gas companies that have leased land in Western Maryland for drilling. The fee would have been used to fund scientific safety studies a state task force is charged with completing and submitting by 2014.

She said this year, environmental and grassroots organizations would be better organized and prepared to force consideration of the bill in the Senate.

“We need to raise the level of education in the Senate to match the engagement we’ve seen in the House of Delegates the last two years,” Mizeur said.

MGM adds about $8 million to gambling campaign account

Supporters and opponents of expanding gambling in Maryland have combined to put $65.4 million into campaign accounts, according to the most recent campaign finance filing with the Maryland State Board of Elections.

MGM Resorts International Inc., which wants to build a Las Vegas-style casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s county, deposited a check for $7.7 million into the ballot issue committee For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc. That brought MGM’s spending on its pro-expansion campaign to $29.5 million.

CBAC Gaming LLC, a group licensed to build a Baltimore casino and led by Caesars Entertainment Corp., has contributed $4.6 million to the account. The Peterson Cos., master developer of National Harbor, has contributed $1.7 million.

Those contributions bring the account’s total to $35.8 million. When combined with a separate committee started by former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry, supporters of Maryland’s expanded gambling law have committed $36.3 million to that cause.

Penn National Gaming Inc. is the only company to spend money in opposition to expanded gambling. The Pennsylvania-based company has put $29.1 million into ballot issue committee Get the Facts – Vote No on 7.

A “yes” vote for Question 7 would allow the construction of a casino in Prince George’s County and the legalization of table games at every Maryland casino. Penn is fighting the law because it believes Rosecroft Raceway, a facility it owns in Fort Washington, will not be seriously considered as a location for Maryland’s sixth authorized casino.

Without that business, Penn fears it will take a financial hit because Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W.Va., draws many of its players from the Washington suburbs.

Gambling-related television and radio advertising has been airing in Maryland since before the General Assembly passed a bill in August that set the framework for gambling expansion, with proponents taking to the airwaves first to encourage voters to ask their legislators to support the bill. Opponents took to the airwaves shortly after Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law, setting up a Nov. 6 referendum.

Eye Opener: O’Malleys differ on some political issues

A pair of Montgomery County senators are expect to announce their support Wednesday for a statutory moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, joining a colleague in the House of Delegates who has already announced plans to sponsor such a bill in the 2013 General Assembly.

Here’s a few other state headlines:

Gay marriage proponents cooking up extra support

Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks in favor of gay marriage in January. State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., an openly gay member of the Senate, looks on.

Gay marriage supporters are trying to cook up some cash before the Nov. 6 election.

A laundry list of high-profile Baltimore and Washington-area chefs are participating in a dinner fundraiser Wednesday that will benefit Maryland’s supporters of Maryland’s same-sex marriage, which is slated for voter consideration on Election Day.

Gov. Martin O’Malley will attend the event, which is being emceed by fashion consultant and television personality Tim Gunn.

Supporters can bid on nine personal chef tables that will cook and serve five-course meals for tables of eight during the fundraiser, dubbed Chefs for Equality. Tickets can also be bought for $150.

The event is being hosted by food columnist and cookbook author David Hagedorn and the Human Rights Campaign, a national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.

Multiple polls show that voters are poised to uphold the same-sex marriage law approved by the General Assembly and signed by O’Malley, but petitioned to referendum by opponents.

If voters do favor legalizing gay marriage, Maryland’s law will be the first such law upheld by a popular vote.

Eye Opener: Early voting starts Saturday

A labor union is being allowed to lobby hospital employees at the University of Maryland Medical Center for the next 90 days, after Gov. Martin O’Malley encouraged the hospital’s Board of Directors to negotiate a deal with the local SEIU.

Here’s a few other government and politics headlines:

Rawlings-Blake, Ogden star in pro-gambling ad

(AP Photo/Chris Gardner)

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and former Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden star in the latest-pro gambling ad paid for by a group urging voters to support Question 7 on Election Day.

Pro-gambling forces already garnered support from the Washington Redskins and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.

Now, they’re apparently working on Baltimore-area voters. Former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. starred in a commercial last week, as did Gov. Martin O’Malley, who was once mayor of Baltimore.

In the latest ad, Rawlings-Blake stands in front of a towering Ogden, the Ravens’ first-ever pick in the NFL Draft and a former All-Pro left tackle.

“Casino owners in West Virginia are spending millions against Question 7. That upsets me,” Rawlings Blake says as the ad begins. “And, that upsets Jonathan Ogden. You don’t want to upset Jonathan Ogden.”

“No you don’t,” replies the 6-foot-9-inch Ogden, perhaps trying to pull off his best David Banner/Incredible Hulk impression. Ogden lives in Las Vegas, where there are apparently a handful of commercial casinos operating.

The mayor is referring to Penn National Gaming Inc., which has dumped $29.1 million into a campaign account being used to pay for advertising opposing expanded gambling. The company owns Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W.Va., which draws a large number of Maryland gamblers.

Rawlings-Blake’s televised endorsement shouldn’t be a surprise, as she was a supporter of gambling expansion all summer. CBAC Gaming LLC, led by Caesars Entertainment Corp., is licensed to build casino on Russell Street that the company says would be more of a destination facility if it includes table games, such as poker.

If Marylanders vote for Question 7, table games will be legal at every state casino and another would be authorized in Prince George’s County. National Harbor appears to be the most likely location.