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Editorial: Let’s not make this deal

Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly performed their version of “Let’s Make a Deal” as the summer’s second not-so-special session unfolded in fits and starts over the last week.

Great summer stock this was not. It was more like amateur hour with the state’s elected officials playing the role of amateurs while legions of lobbyists roamed the halls on behalf of powerful casino companies.

When it was over, no one could claim victory except the gambling industry and the lobbyists who were handsomely paid for their efforts.

The powerful casino interests walked away with a new casino in Prince George’s County, hundreds of millions in tax breaks and the ability to operate around the clock while adding table games from blackjack to roulette.

The state walked away with another $174 million in annual revenue, except all but $40 million of that comes from shifting responsibility for buying slot machines from the state to the operators and not from revenue from the new casino, most of which disappears thanks to the tax breaks.

It was a terrible deal for the state. Maryland taxpayers would have been far better served if their legislators had stayed home on summer vacation.

It was also a terrible way to make policy. The bill passed by the bare constitutional majority in the House of Delegates only after marathon sessions and nonstop lobbying by the governor and Speaker Michael E. Busch.

Mr. O’Malley said he was “sick” of arguing about gambling and legislative action now would “put this issue behind us.” Think again, Governor. Given the stakes, gambling will continue to dominate Maryland politics, and this action establishes a precedent for legislative intervention. There is nothing to expect but more of the same.

Mr. Busch, never a proponent of gambling, said he decided to get on board after noticing that the 2008 referendum on legalizing slot machine gambling in Maryland passed with 58 percent of the vote.

Earth to Speaker: This is news to you? Have you been living in a parallel universe for the last four years?

Maryland voters still have a chance to overrule their elected representatives at the polls in November. They need to do exactly that to save their leaders from themselves and give them the opportunity to get it right in 2014.