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Divisions On Casino Hold Up Maryland Budget

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Maryland lawmakers in Annapolis are down to the wire on a budget deal.
Robert Williams (http://www.flickr.com/photos/rwillia532/6023529955/)
Maryland lawmakers in Annapolis are down to the wire on a budget deal.

The Maryland General Assembly is close to passing a bill that would allow for a casino in Prince George's County, regarded by many as the last major obstacle in the way of an agreement on a state budget with just hours before they are scheduled to adjourn for the year. Senators and delegates have reportedly agreed to a budget plan, but have not reached consensus on tax increases that would prevent severe spending cuts. That means a special session is likely before those cuts would go into effect over the summer.

For much of the day, it appeared the budget would be held up because the House had not taken action on the bill that would expand gaming to Prince George's County. The House Ways and Means Committee did approve the bill late this afternoon, with some changes -- including a limit on the number of slot machines at the site and a delay on when it can open. Even with the changes, Prince George's County executive Rushern Baker is pleased.

"If this is the product that goes across, I'll be happy," says Baker. "It gets us table games and slots in Prince George's County."

Republican delegate Ron George of Anne Arundel County, home of the largest casino in the state at Arundel Mills Mall, voted against the plan: "To have a mega casino like Arundel Mills be formed and built and be told they would be able to pull from a certain radius and have that put into their business plan, and then suddenly we're putting a casino right outside of Washington D.C. that was where they were going to be pulling from."

Senate president Mike Miller, who represents part of Prince George's County, disagrees that a casino in his county will hurt business at the Arundel Mills site or a potential casino in the city of Baltimore.

"Washington D.C. was carved from my county in 1791," says Miller. "My county wraps around Washington D.C. That's where the money is going to come from."

The full House must approve the bill, and then the Senate must give its approval Monday night.

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