Special session to expand casino gambling now unlikely
Monday, 02 July 2012 12:50

House opposes tax breaks for casino operators

by Bill Gates

    Unless something happens this week, it’s unlikely there will be a special session of the Maryland General Assembly this summer to seek an expansion of gambling in the state.
    The sense of urgency is due to the fact that any changes in casino-related gambling must be approved by voters.
    Holding a special session this summer would put the changes on the ballot during the elections this fall; otherwise, they would have to wait for the 2014 elections.
    “As far as I know, Gov. [Martin] O’Malley is still trying to negotiate with the House leadership for a special session,” Del. Joseph “Sonny” Minnick (6th District) said last week.
    “If they don’t agree to it by July 6, it’s not going to happen.”
    An impasse exists between the Maryland Senate and the House of Delegates. The Senate favors the changes, while House speaker Michael Busch opposes them.

    The Senate seeks to allow “table games” (such as blackjack, craps and roulette) in the existing casinos, build a sixth casino (at National Harbor in Prince George’s County) and lower tax rates for the casino owners.
    The House leadership refused to support lowering taxes on casino owners, making a special session pointless.
    “Even though the state would have made more money overall, the House was reluctant to lower rates for casino operators,” said Del. John Olszewski Jr. (6th District). “Especially since the data to that will allow us to know if the existing sites will meet projections is relatively new.
    “There seems to be a consensus that it makes sense to consider lower rates at the Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City sites to compensate for a market share loss with a sixth site, but the legislators were especially reluctant to support lowering rates at the new casino site.”
    Olszewski, Minnick and Del. Michael S. Weir Jr. (6th District) support table games and a sixth casino, but are also opposed to lowering the tax rates for casino operators.
    “As one of only a handful of Democrats in the entire state to have voted against the recent income tax hike,” Olszewski said. “I remain sensitive to any lowering of tax rates for casino interests but also the difficult fiscal challenges that Maryland and most other states are facing.
    “I have been a long-time advocate of expanding our gambling facilities to include table games. Failing to do so puts our existing facilities at a competitive disadvantage and means Maryland is potentially missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue on an annual basis.”
    Minnick and Weir, both Democrats, also opposed the tax increases that were approved during the General Assembly’s special session in May.
    The three delegates were targeted by a mailing to homes in their district two weeks ago, urging people to contact the delegates and tell them to oppose the tax break for casino operators.
    “I definitely would not vote for a proposal that would lower the state’s take and give the casinos a tax break,” said Minnick, who reported receiving dozens of calls and emails.  “If the tax break is part of the bill, I definitely would not vote for it.”
    Minnick said there is also some opposition in the House to building a sixth casino.
    During the regular General Assembly session last winter, Minnick said he asked Senate president Mike Miller why he didn’t split table games and the National Harbor casino into two separate bills.
    “Miller said the National Harbor bill would never pass [on it’s own],” said Minnick, who strongly supports adding table games and feels the Rosecroft Raceway would be a better spot for a new casino in Prince George’s County.