Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Table games, P.G. casino appear in jeopardy

ANNAPOLIS — A proposed Prince George’s County casino and the legalization of table games in Maryland appear to be in jeopardy, as the leadership of a House of Delegates panel said Tuesday that legislation authorizing both measures is in need of work.

Del. Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, chairman of the House subcommittee that reviews gambling, said his subpanel might not come to a decision on SB 892 until Thursday or Friday. The subcommittee’s decision would still have to be approved by the full committee before the legislation reached the House floor. The Senate easily passed the bill last week.

But Turner took issue during the hearing with the amount of money appropriated to the state through gambling revenue under the Senate plan. The bill calls for a 60 percent tax on slots — a reduction from the 67 percent collected now — and a 10 percent tax on table games.

“The state’s getting very little,” Turner said. “We need to make some major changes.”

Del. Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, chairwoman of the Ways and Means committee, agreed with Turner’s assessment that the state was not getting enough money in the Senate version of the legislation. The casino owners would be the winners in the deal approved by the Senate, Hixson said, not the state. She said the House panel must increase the tax rate on gambling in order for the legislation to move to the full chamber.

But Hixson also said the committee, down to less than a week before the scheduled conclusion of the General Assembly session, had its hands full, and wouldn’t come back to the gambling bill for a few days.

“Right now we’re all in conference [committees] on the budget and on taxes,” Hixson said. “So, this is third in line. We’re going to do the other two first.

“We certainly could use the money. … We don’t feel the state is getting enough.”

Lobbyists for and against the legislation were omnipresent in Annapolis on Tuesday, including a group of religious leaders from Prince George’s County who opposed the bill.

Kevin McGhee, president of the Laurel Clergy Association, said he predicted four years ago that the state would try to expand gambling in what he called a “race to the bottom,” adding table games and building more casinos as surrounding states changed their gambling laws.

McGhee and others said they would meet with members of the Prince George’s County Senate delegation throughout the day.

“We are the safety net for Prince George’s County,” McGhee said.

On the other side, Gary Loveman, CEO for Caesars Entertainment Corp., which is the leader of a group that wants to build a facility in downtown Baltimore, met with lawmakers Wednesday to urge passage of the bill so that his proposed casino could have table games, like blackjack.

Sweeteners added to the bill make it more palatable for Caesars, which would oppose legislation that only added a sixth slots license.

“It allows a lower rate of taxation and the ability to offer table games,” Loveman said. “We come out favorably disposed. … You are slicing up the pie a little smaller … but you’ll have the benefit of this whole new category of business.”

As for whether the Maryland market could support a sixth license, Loveman did not appear concerned.

“It’s certainly more competition, but it’s not over the top,” he said.