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Table games in Maryland not a sure bet

As lawmakers consider revisiting a potential gambling expansion that gummed up state budget negotiations this year, the results of a poll released by the lone bidder for a Baltimore casino show that support for such an expansion isn’t overwhelming.

About 58 percent of Marylanders would support adding table games — like blackjack — to state gambling facilities, the poll results said. About 60 percent of residents would also support building a billion-dollar resort casino on the banks of the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, at the sprawling National Harbor development.

Of the state’s five slots licenses, only Baltimore’s has yet to be awarded. Table games are not allowed under those licenses.

A vast majority of those polled did say that voters should decide the issue this year. More than 84 percent are in favor of a fall referendum on expanding gambling.

CBAC Gaming LLC — the lone Baltimore license bidder, led by Caesars Entertainment Corp. — paid for the poll, which was conducted by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks. A Caesars lobbyist and spokeswoman said the results should help convince lawmakers to move forward with a bill to expand gambling.

“Marylanders have long believed that table games are an important component to a competitive and productive gaming environment,” Jan Jones said. “Marylanders understand the job and revenue benefits of table games, and they would like the state to act now to resolve these important outstanding issues.

“We hope the governor and legislature will allow Maryland voters to decide this November.”

First, lawmakers must pass legislation outlining new gambling rules. Changes to gambling law must be approved in a statewide vote. If legislation is not passed this summer in a special session of the General Assembly and put on the ballot in November, a vote could not take place until 2014.

Caesars executives supported legislation introduced in the General Assembly this year that would have created a slots license for Prince George’s County because table games would allow the Baltimore group to attract a more affluent clientele.

The poll suggests, however, the majority of that clientele isn’t living in Maryland. Just 38 percent of those polled said they supported the gambling expansion because it would change “slots parlors to more exciting, high-end entertainment destinations.”

Those polled were more interested in what impact a gambling expansion would have on the economy and state coffers. About 58 percent said the expansion was important because it would create jobs, and 57 percent said it was important because it would increase tax revenue.

The legislature is divided on the gambling issue, and it remains unclear whether it will be revisited this summer after failing to gain approval during the regular session. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, wants to see a casino built at National Harbor. But House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, has never been more than a reluctant supporter of gambling.

Gov. Martin O’Malley did not include gambling expansion in his 2012 legislative agenda, but has said the issue deserves exploration. He’s floated the possibility of calling a special legislative session in August to discuss the issue, so as to keep it separate from the special session May 14 when lawmakers will try to prevent some $500 million in spending cuts that would otherwise go into effect July 1.

OpinionWorks, the polling firm, telephoned 810 randomly-selected registered voters between April 21 and April 23. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent.