Expanded gambling bill passes, will go to state referendum
Wednesday, 22 August 2012 11:06

Legislature fails to compromise on pit bull bill

by Bill Gates

    Voters in Maryland will now determine if gambling in the state will expand after the legislature passed a bill during a special session which concluded last week.
    The bill, which will be added to the presidential election ballot in November for voter approval, would make the following changes in Maryland gambling:
    The existing five casinos will be allowed to add “table games” such as blackjack, poker and craps;
    A sixth casino with table games and 3,000 slot machines will be built in Prince George’s County. Residents of PG County will have the final say on this issue;
    Existing casinos will get a variety of tax cuts. Maryland Live! in Han-over would see it’s tax rate cut by eight percent to have more money to spend on promotional costs and capital improvements. The planned casino in Baltimore City would get a seven percent tax cut, while the casino planned for Worcester County would see a 10 percent cut and the planned Allegany County casino would keep 50 percent of its revenues for 10 years and 43 percent afterwards;
    Casinos would be allowed to be open for 24 hours.

Two amendments added by the House of Delegates were also approved by the Senate: veteran’s groups in every county west of the Chesapeake Bay except for Montgomery County can operate up to five instant pull-tab gambling machines.
    Also, retailers who sell state lottery tickets will keep a higher percentage of the sales.
    Another amendment prohibits the use of welfare cards at gambling facilities.
    The representatives from the 6th District, Sen. Norman R. Stone and delegates John Olszewski Jr. Joseph “Sonny” Minnick and Michael Weir Jr., all voted in favor of the bill.
    The bill, SB 1, passed the House of Delegates by 71-59 (the minimum necessary for passage) with 10 delegates absent; it passed the Senate 28-14 prior to the House amendments, and 32-14 afterward.
    “The main thing is, we were able to give the veteran’s groups something they’ve been wanting for years and years, the ability to have five machines” Minnick said. “That was enough for me to support the bill.”
    That part is also official. Regardless of the referendum vote, groups such as the VFW and the American Legion can have the five machines.
    “It was not considered an expansion of gaming, so they can keep them even if the referendum fails,” Olszewski said.
    Unlike a slot machine, which operates on random chance and pays off at the machine, the devices approved for the veteran’s organizations award tickets, such as instant bingo, which are redeemed at the bar.
    Changes to Maryland gambling laws must be approved by referendum. When a bill failed to pass during the regular General Assembly session last winter, Gov. Martin O’Malley called a special session this month in order to pass the bill in time for it to appear on the ballot this Novermber.
    Otherwise, an expansion of state gambling would have been delayed until at least the 2014 elections.
    “It comes down to revenue, quite frankly,” Olszewski said. “We’ll get revenues from slots that don’t require us to raise taxes or cut services.
    “We should have done this during the regular session. But the state is still facing a structural deficit, and every dollar we raise through gaming is a dollar we didn’t need to get through taxes.”
    For that reason, Olszewski said, it was important to hold a special session so as not to have to wait two years for an opportunity to expand gambling and increase the state revenue.
    Retailers who sell lottery tickets, mainly small businesses, will see their share of the sales increase from five percent to five-and-a-half percent, and to six percent once the Baltimore City casino opens.
    “The last couple of years, the commission [for businesses selling lottery tickets] was cut pretty significantly as we tried to fill budget holes,” Olszewski said. “This recognizes the efforts of small businesses and will disproportionally help our region, due to the high concentration of lottery machines.”

Pit bull bill fails
    A bill intended to overturn a recent court decision that ruled pit bulls are inherently dangerous failed during the special session last week when the Senate and the House of Delegates could not agree on a version of the bill.
    The Senate passed a bill that extended the strict liability for injuries caused by dogs to all dog owners, not just pit bull owners.
    It also took some of the burden off of landlords, who, under the court ruling could also be held liable for injuries caused by pit bulls (and has led to landlords refusing to allow tenants to own pit bulls).
    The House bill stated dog owners were only liable for injuries caused when their dogs were running loose without supervision.
    “It was a complete surprise the Senate rejected the bill,” Minnick said. “I heard it was a very good piece of legislation.”