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Baltimore delegates oppose Senate gambling bill

ANNAPOLIS — Baltimore’s delegation chairman in the House of Delegates opened the General Assembly’s final day with some political hardball Monday, vowing to oppose the Senate’s new gambling expansion plan without protections for the planned city casino and restoration of planning money for the convention center-arena-hotel project.

Del. Curt S. Anderson, a Democrat, said the 18 city delegates would not vote for the Senate gambling bill if it reaches the House floor in its current form. The potential loss of support could be crucial to the fate of the legislation, which needs 71 votes to pass the House.

Anderson said the delegation wants $2.5 million for the planning and design of a Baltimore Convention Center expansion, which is attached to a new downtown arena and hotel, to be put back into the fiscal 2013 capital budget. Anderson said it was important to protect Baltimore as the “business hub” of the state.

A House-Senate conference committee eliminated the $2.5 million Saturday.

The Senate’s latest version of gambling legislation would authorize a voter referendum on a sixth state slots license and the addition of table games, like black jack, in all Maryland casinos. The bill says that a Prince George’s casino, probably at Rosecroft Raceway or National Harbor, could not open using the sixth slots license before July 1, 2015.

Anderson said that’s not enough time for a Baltimore casino to get up to full speed before the new facility opens. The city casino would need “at least three years” to “hit stride,” he said.

The license has not been awarded for the city casino but could be by June.

The future of the gambling legislation was already murky. Del. Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, chairman of the House subcommittee that deals with gambling, had said he was not sure the bill had the votes needed to get the bill out of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill easily passed the Senate, where President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, has pushed hard for a new license for Prince George’s County.

The House panel held a hearing on SB 26 Monday morning, and delegates grilled Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor, and Victoria L. Gruber, Miller’s chief of staff.

Turner, who prefers legislation that would only add table games to the five existing casino licenses in the state, said a sixth casino in Prince George’s County would take too much revenue away from other state facilities.

“We’re going to create less jobs,” Turner said.

After Friday morning’s hearing, Turner would not predict what would happen to the bill. He said a committee vote had not yet been scheduled.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.