Maryland approves gambling bill

The House of Delegates passed the gambling legislation 71-58. Photo: Flickr/FreeRichard

(AP, ABC7) - Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed a measure to allow a new casino in Prince George's County near Washington, as well as table games such as poker at gambling hall.

The Maryland House of Delegates on Tuesday approved the measure. The vote was 71-58.

This bill will allow us to create 2,300 jobs," O'Malley says.

The House also significantly lowered the state's high tax rate on slot machine gambling at two casino sites, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore.

The Senate, which passed its version of gambling legislation last week, will need to agree to some changes to send the measure to Gov. Martin O'Malley. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller indicated Tuesday night that the changes were minor and similar to legislation already passed by the Senate.

The House amended the measure Tuesday night to allow veterans' groups to have five instant pull tab gambling machines at their facilities, with the veterans and the state splitting the money at first before the profits are allocated to a state veterans fund after 2014.

A key part of the bill lowers the state's 67-percent tax rate to varying degrees for the state's casinos, partly to offset added competition from a new casino in Prince George's County and also to divest the state from purchasing expensive slot machines.

Voters would have to approve the gambling expansion in November. Voters in Prince George's County would need to approve the new casino site. If the ballot question passes statewide but not in Prince George's County, table games would be allowed - but not a new casino.

One of the biggest changes made by the House relates to lowering the tax rate for the new Maryland Live! casino in Anne Arundel County, the state's largest casino. The tax rate would also be cut for a planned casino in Baltimore, where Caesars Entertainment has secured a license to build a casino near Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens.

The tax rate for Maryland Live! Would be lowered by 8 percentage points. The rate for the planned Caesars casino would drop 7 percentage points.

Maryland casinos also would get an additional tax rate cut, if they agree to take over ownership of slot machines.

Maryland Live! would get a further tax rate reduction of 8 percentage points for buying the machines. Other casinos would get a 6 percentage-point rate cut.

The changes mean Maryland Live! would keep 49 percent of the money generated by the casino, instead of 33 percent. The Baltimore casino would keep 46 percent.

Maryland Live! could later seek an additional 2 percent with approval from a new commission, and Baltimore could seek 3 percent more.

Supporters of the bill say Maryland Live! is getting the higher tax reductions, because it would be closer to the new casino, and the Cordish Cos., which owns the Anne Arundel County casino, can't purchase slot machines as cheaply as the owners of the state's other larger casinos.

The measure also enables Maryland casinos to be open 24 hours. The bill also reshapes the current State Lottery Agency and the State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

There are no artist renderings of what a National Harbor Casino would look like yet, but county executive Rushern Baker is thinking big.

“You will come over 95 and I expect you will see a huge glamorous building high end that fits with National Harbor. A billion dollar facility,” he says.

Gaming giant MGM will be bidding to operate the casino. On Wednesday, an MGM spokesman released a statement saying they "look forward to meeting more Marylanders to detail our company's vision for a destination resort … it will be a showcase of which Prince George's County and all of Maryland will be proud."

A far less likely scenario would see a casino at the old Rosecroft Raceway a few miles north of National Harbor.

There are plenty of skeptics.

“We know with casinos the crime rate goes higher and people are gambling their money away. Theres will be a lot of Christmases go bad for the children,” says Mekonah Gray, National Harbor restaurant employee.