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Senate passes bill to expand gaming, add casino

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate has passed legislation to legalize table games such as blackjack and roulette and cleared the way for a 4,750 slot-machine casino in Prince George’s County.

The measure, which passed 35-11 Tuesday, is the most significant expansion to Maryland gambling since voters approved slot machines at five locations in 2008.

The bill would increase the amount of revenue slots parlor owners keep by 8 percentage points in exchange for a mandate that they begin to purchase the machines, which are currently paid for by the state.

State officials said owning and leasing the machines has proved to be an inefficient expense.

When lawmakers approved the framework for the slot machine plan in a special session in 2007, they decided the state should purchase the machines to ensure greater oversight.

The take would also go up by an additional 7 percentage points, bringing the casino operators’ share of profits to 48 percent, after a license is awarded for a new casino. The remaining funds are taken by the state.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse, whose district would include the new casino, attempted to strip the increases from the bill, saying the measure unfairly benefits casino owners who are already wealthy.

“The last thing I think we ought to be doing is going home and telling people we made the rich richer,” Muse, a Prince George’s Democrat, said.

The legislation now moves to the House of Delegates, where its future is uncertain. After legislative approval, the bill would have to be ratified by a majority of Maryland voters before taking effect.

If Prince George’s voters shoot down the plan, the extra casino proposal would die and the slots parlor owners would not see the increase in their take.

However, if that happens, but a majority of statewide voters OK the referendum, the state would be relieved of the obligation to buy slot machines.