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Maryland lawmakers start second special session

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers convened for the year’s second special session Thursday to consider a significant expansion of gambling in the state to raise more revenue and create jobs.

The measure, which is tailored to make Maryland more competitive with neighboring states with a larger variety of gambling options, would allow table games like craps and a new casino in Prince George’s County near the nation’s capital.

Lawmakers also will be considering legislation to address a ruling by Maryland’s highest court that pit bulls are “inherently dangerous” animals. Lawmakers are working to address landlord and third-party liability for dog bites by putting liability for bites by any type of dog on their owners.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who met with Senate Democrats to talk about the measure, said he was hopeful the Legislature was ready to put the decade-long gambling debate to rest. The governor said he believes added input from the House of Delegates will help break an impasse that blocked a similar bill during the regular session in April.

“I’m confident that we have a better work product because of the input of the House than we’ve ever had before,” O’Malley, a Democrat, said. “I’m hopeful that we have the votes in the House.”

Republicans, however, were critical of the plan.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who represents parts of Cecil and Harford counties, noted that a casino in Perryville in her district recently announced it wants to return 400 to 500 slot machines due to declining business caused by the opening of the state’s largest casino in Anne Arundel County.

“This whole session is a farce,” Jacobs said. “I mean, it’s the pits. It’s about pit bulls, pit bosses, and my citizens say it’s pitiful.”

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is scheduled to meet in the afternoon and will likely vote on the measure that would allow table games and a new casino site. The new casino in Prince George’s would be open to competitive bidding and could not open until 2016.

Voters would have to approve the gambling expansion in November.

The House of Delegates is scheduled to convene on Friday.

The gambling measure would lower the state’s 67 percent tax rate on gambling proceeds by varying degrees for the five casinos currently allowed in the state and for the new casino.

The bill would also allow casinos to keep 6 percent more revenue if they buy or lease slot machines. Currently, the state must own the machines, a provision in the law that has cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

A casino in Anne Arundel County and a planned casino in Baltimore would get an additional 5 percent of the proceeds, which would have to be spent on marketing and capital improvements. Political contributions from gambling entities would be banned. Casinos could be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.