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House Republicans voice opposition to gambling session

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (Photo: Maryland State Archives)

Before even the first meeting of a gambling work group formed Monday, opposition is mounting against the possibility of Gov. Martin O’Malley calling a special session of the General Assembly to consider expanded gambling in Maryland.

Republican leaders of the House of Delegates — Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell and Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio — co-signed a letter to Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch on behalf of the House Republican caucus, detailing why a special session should not be convened.

“With annual 90-day sessions, it is our view that special sessions should only be called in times of true, rather than contrived, crisis,” the letter says. “We do not see any crisis or emergency that would necessitate a special session, nor has any reason been given why this must be done now.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. — who also received a copy of the letter, along with O’Malley — has pushed hard for the casino issue to be resolved this summer. Any change in state casino law requires an amendment to the state constitution. Any amendment to the state constitution must be approved in a statewide voter referendum during a general election.

If the issue is not voted on this fall, the next statewide election isn’t until 2014. But O’Donnell and Haddaway-Riccio wrote there still wasn’t enough reason to call a special session.

“Holding the debate until the regular session in 2013 may delay the question going to the voters until the 2014 election, but it will give legislators and voters alike the time to consider the issue thoughtfully,” the letter says.

Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (Photo: Maryland State Archives)

The letter goes on to say that the state should learn from the 2007 special session, where Maryland’s casino framework was established. Trying to change that framework just five years later — and less than two years after the state’s first casino opened — shows the “haphazard manner” through which the program was set up, the letter says.

“If Maryland’s slots program had been crafted in a more deliberative and thoughtful fashion, rather than in a chaotic frenzy, we could be in a very different position today,” the letter says. “We do not need a repeat of past mistakes, the citizens of Maryland deserve better.”