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State casino owners going to be required to play nicely

ANNAPOLIS – The General Assembly is scheduled to approve legislation Thursday that would require Maryland’s casino owners to play nice as the state struggles to get its nascent gaming industry up and running.

The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to the Senate’s version of the legislation, SB 373, on Wednesday. A final Senate vote on the House bill, HB 868, was delayed over lawmakers’ concerns that the legislation would harm the operations of Hollywood Casino Perryville, which became the state’s first slots parlor when it opened in September.

But Senate Minority Whip E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, said the concerns had been addressed and he would not raise objections to the bill Thursday.

“We’re fine with it,” he said.

Lawmakers crafted the legislation to crack down on the public and pricey battles fought by The Cordish Cos. and Penn National Gaming Inc., through its 49 percent share of the Maryland Jockey Club, over the gaming license in Anne Arundel County.

Cordish was awarded the license to build what would be the state’s largest casino next to the Arundel Mills shopping mall, but was delayed by a referendum campaign and court and administrative challenges to its plan by the jockey club.

Cordish’s casino is expected to eventually send more than $400 million in taxes to the state and county.

Cordish is seeking $600 million in damages from Penn National and its codefendants in a lawsuit filed in February.

Penn National Spokesman D. Eric Schippers wrote in an email Wednesday that the company remains opposed to the legislation. Penn National wrote to lawmakers that “defendants may be precluded from presenting a full and complete defense against this baseless suit.”

The bills would bar licensed casino owners from preventing or delaying the opening of other gambling operations in the state, but stops short of limiting free speech, giving the Maryland Lottery Agency authority to referee disputes between casino owners “to the fullest extent allowed by the First Amendment.”

Amendments added to the legislation would make it prospective.

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