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Maryland House Passes Gaming Expansion

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The Maryland General Assembly approved the gaming expansion by a 32-14 vote late Tuesday.
Matt Bush
The Maryland General Assembly approved the gaming expansion by a 32-14 vote late Tuesday.

The Maryland House of Delegates has given its approved to legislation passed late last week by the state senate to expand gaming in the state. The bill would expand gaming options in the state to table games like poker and roulette, as well as paving the way for a casino in Prince George's County.

Delegates convened more than two hours after they were scheduled to, as last minute politicking continued right up to the moment delegates entered the House chamber. After considering a number of amendments, including one that would ban the use of state welfare cards in casinos, the House of Delegates passed the bill 71-58 late Tuesday night.

A key part of the bill would lower the state's tax rate at two casino sites, partly to offset added competition from a future casino in Prince George's County, near Washington and northern Virginia. The concern is well-grounded, as the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Md., returned slot machines leased from the state earlier this month, citing diminished revenue after the opening of the Maryland Live! casino in Arundel Mills.

According to estimates from the Associated Press, however, the changes will cost the state's education trust fund an estimated $32 million in gambling revenue in 2017.

Even with the changes, the Senate concurred early Wednesday by a vote of 32-14, sending the measure to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who signed it later Tuesday morning.

Now the bill needs not only to pass a statewide referendum, but in order for the casino to be placed in Prince George's County, voters there must approve it as well. The referendum will also ask if voters approve of table games such as blackjack and roulette be allowed at Maryland casinos.

"The voters passed the original slot machine bill with nearly 60 percent of the vote," says House Majority Leader Kumar Barve. "So I think the voters will uphold it. And let me go out on a limb, I think the voters in Prince George's County will as well."

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