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Gambling work group waiting for study

ANNAPOLIS — The fate of Maryland’s gambling industry appears to rest with a soon-to-be completed PricewaterhouseCoopers study, which will examine the viability of building a Prince George’s County casino and adding table games to all slot parlors in the state.

Members of a work group that is studying the proposed expansion of the state’s gambling program met for the first time Friday to listen to four developers — and one likely developer — of the state’s five casinos, who provided their own studies and figures to explain their various reasons for supporting or opposing any alteration to Maryland’s casino law.

But after five hours of testimony, state lawmakers — who had heard many of the same arguments from casino owners during the regular legislative session — said the real debate won’t start until the study is presented before the group’s next meeting on June 12.

“We want to see the Pricewaterhouse study,” said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, D-Baltimore, one of six state legislators in the 11-person work group.

Del. Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George’s, echoed McFadden’s sentiment, saying that after months of debate, he had “heard enough from the operators.”

“They might have brushed up the presentation a bit more … but PricewaterhouseCoopers, that’s what I’m more interesting in hearing from.

“The needle will move for me one way or the other” depending on the report’s results.

In a letter dated May 2, PricewaterhouseCoopers said it would analyze how much revenue a casino at the sprawling National Harbor development in Prince George’s County would generate, consider what impact such a casino would have on other facilities in the state and study the effect of adding table games to each already-approved slots parlor in Maryland.

The report is also expected to suggest appropriate tax rates for casinos. The state takes 67 percent of slots revenue and would have to devise a separate rate for table games.

Del. Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, who chairs the House of Delegates subcommittee that deals with gambling issues, said the tax rate would be the issue to watch moving forward. Turner said he was disheartened by an analysis conducted by Pennsylvania-based Business Research & Economic Advisors that called for the tax rate to be lowered to 52 percent in conjunction with a 10 percent tax rate on table games.

Turner cited testimony by The Cordish Cos. Chairman David Cordish, developer of Maryland Live! at Arundel Mills, and Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars Entertainment Corp., the lone bidder on a Baltimore casino license, in which both said they were willing to operate their large casinos with the current tax rate.

“We have to do what’s best for the state,” Turner said. “I’m hoping we’ll do that.”

John Morton III, head of the gambling expansion workgroup and chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said it was important for the group to “keep an open mind,” but acknowledged the consultants’ report will carry more weight in debate because PricewaterhouseCoopers has “no axe to grind.”

“We’re still really in a learning mode,” Morton said.