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Bill would OK table games and new casino site

ANNAPOLIS — A measure introduced in the Maryland Senate on Monday night would allow table games like blackjack at casinos and make it possible to build a casino in Prince George’s County.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, would put both the table games component of the legislation and the provision allowing a sixth casino in the state before voters in November. The Prince George’s County casino could be Rosecroft Raceway or National Harbor, near the nation’s capital.

Peters, D-Prince George’s, said the proposal for the additional casino would require the approval of voters statewide as well as by voters in Prince George’s County. Even after that, local officials could decide against zoning provisions needed for the casino.

“So there’s really three levels of votes here,” Peters said.

The bill also increases the amount of money a casino operator would receive, Peters said. Currently, they receive 33 percent of the revenue. The measure would raise that to 40 percent.

In addition, the measure would change current state law to enable a casino operator to own more than one casino in the state.

The bill would set aside 5.5 percent of revenue generated by a Prince George’s County casino for an economic development fund in the county. Another 2.5 percent would help pay for capital costs at a hospital.

“Those are all issues that are going to be discussed with the county executive and the council,” Peters, referring to Prince George’s County officials, told reporters after Monday night’s session in the Senate. “I’ve asked them to come back and give us some feedback on the issue.”

Peters noted that, so far, a similar bill has not been introduced in the House of Delegates. He said he believes it’s important that the House consider a bill filed by a delegate to improve the chances of legislation clearing both chambers.

“I think it’s a priority,” Peters said.

Peters said he hopes a hearing will be held on the measure within two weeks or so.

Now, Maryland only allows slot machines at casinos. Of five casino sites allowed under the current law, only two have opened. One is in Perryville off of Interstate 95, and the other is near Ocean City at the Ocean Downs horse racing track. The third, which will be the state’s largest with 4,750 slot machines, is scheduled to open this summer in Anne Arundel County near Arundel Mills Mall.

Maryland faces stiff competition for gamblers’ dollars in neighboring Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which all allow table games like blackjack, roulette and poker.