Slots panel member wants to tweak gambling plan

December 09, 2008|By Gadi Dechter

As Maryland's slots selection commission takes shape, one newly appointed member wants the panel to go beyond awarding potentially lucrative gambling licenses to consider advising the legislature on adjustments for the just-approved gambling plan.

"I think some of the first work of the commission is to study the legislation in the reality of the current economy," said D. Bruce Poole, a Hagerstown attorney and former lawmaker, and determine whether the plan approved by voters last month will yield "viable" bidders.

Poole was appointed yesterday as one of House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch's two picks for the seven-member panel.

A slots opponent who said he voted against the November referendum that legalized them, Poole insisted yesterday that he wants to ensure high-quality slots parlors in Maryland. Some gambling analysts and gaming companies have said Maryland's plan to take 67 cents on every dollar collected by operators, and the requirement of huge upfront investments, might dampen enthusiasm for the licenses.

In addition to Poole, a Democrat, Busch also tapped Thomas P. Barbera, a Montgomery County Republican and retired health care executive.

Gov. Martin O'Malley announced his appointment of Linda Read and Ella Pierce to the panel. Read, of Cecil County, is an executive with Paul Risk Associates Inc., a construction company. O'Malley officials said she is active in the Port Deposit community, which is near the proposed slots location in Cecil County. Pierce is a retired government administrator specializing in procurement. The Baltimore resident serves on the State Board of Public Accountancy. O'Malley also announced yesterday four new appointments to the Maryland Lottery Commission, which is expanding to nine members as it adds slots regulation to its portfolio.

Last week, O'Malley selected Greater Baltimore Committee head Donald C. Fry to lead the slots panel, established by the legislature to oversee the gambling licenses legalized by voters last month in a referendum.Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's two appointments to the panel are former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall and retired judge James H. Taylor.

Barbera, Poole and Neall are not slots supporters, but have all said they would work to pick responsible gaming operators that can provide the maximum return for the state, which is banking on hundreds of millions of dollars in gambling revenues to ease the state's structural budget deficit.

In an interview yesterday, Busch said he believed the commission might have to negotiate with Baltimore officials, who are counting on millions of dollars in rental income from a casino development on city-owned land. Busch said slots commissioners might question city leaders about "whether they should be allowed to ask for rent money" at all, since the city would already get a cut of the state taxes.

Baltimore Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank said a ground lease or revenue-sharing agreement with a casino developer "was a key element of the city's willingness to host a facility," and that Baltimore has not modified its expectations.

Separately yesterday, a legislative analyst told lawmakers that officials anticipate the license-application process will last months and that licenses might not be awarded until the fall. To prepare for a Feb. 1 bid submission deadline, the commission is expected to meet at least once this month to hire a consultant and begin collecting information from prospective operators.

During a hearing yesterday, Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard, a Prince George's County Democrat, questioned a provision that generally prohibits free food and alcohol from slots casinos. That prohibition was added to protect neighboring restaurants and bars from a loss of business.

"We seem to be tying our hands," Howard said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Smitherman contributed to this article.

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