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Table games amendment introduced in House

ANNAPOLIS —- With an eye toward generating revenue and staying competitive with surrounding states, Del. Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, introduced a bill Wednesday to eventually amend Maryland’s gaming laws and allow sites awarded slots licenses to operate table games.

The bill, in the form of a constitutional amendment and assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee, comes less than a week after Delaware’s Senate passed a bill allowing table games in casinos there. Pennsylvania and West Virginia also recently approved table games such as poker, black jack and craps.

“They’ll all have table games and we’ll still have only slots,” said Turner. “I know we’ve got to do better than what we are doing now.”

Additional revenue is a concern too, Turner said.

“I think it’s our responsibility to raise revenue somehow,” he said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has opposed proposals from lawmakers who have suggested table games, saying it would be unfair to voters to legislate changes to gambling law when they were the ones who voted for it in 2008.

Turner’s bill has 15 co-sponsors, and he said he has commitments from delegates to support his bill if it gets to the House floor.

If Turner’s bill passes the House and Senate, the amendment would be put before Maryland voters in the November election. A majority vote there would make it law.

In the other chamber, Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, D-Baltimore City, is set to introduce a bill that she said will require the state’s slots commission to evaluate table games in surrounding states to determine their impact on Maryland’s slots venues.

“We are about five years behind in introducing gambling to Maryland,” Pugh said. “”Somebody has to take a perspective on how we move forward.”

Pugh has an interest in table games to produce tourist destinations.

“With table games comes better entertainment, better retail,” Pugh said. “It’s certainly going to be job-generating and industry-generating.”

Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state’s Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, said his panel is submitting a letter that says table games are something the state might have to consider, but they are not recommending anything.

“Our role is not as a policymaker,” Fry, the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said. “Our role is to implement the law that the legislators pass.”

The commission is working on rebidding the Rocky Gap and Baltimore slots sites, which could take months. The state’s three other slots locations are moving forward.

“Our first priority,” Fry said, “is to make sure we get these five facilities up and running.”

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