Mayor backs Vegas-style gambling

Table game would make state more competitive, Rawlings-Blake says

February 13, 2010|By Annie Linskey | annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said she would like to see the state's fledgling slot-machine gambling program expanded to include poker, blackjack, craps and roulette, adding her voice Friday to a growing number of lawmakers who support bringing Vegas-style table games to Maryland.

Such games, the mayor said at a meeting of Baltimore's state lawmakers in Annapolis, would make any proposed city gambling parlor competitive "not only in the state, but within the region."

The mayor said that she's "open" and "wants to hear from people" on the issue, and added that she's not personally troubled about whether more gambling would bring additional social costs such as crime and addiction.

"I'm not fighting internally about whether or not table games are a good or bad thing for the city," Rawlings-Blake said. "I think the revenue will help us be more competitive."

Baltimore is one of five locations for slots parlors approved by voters in 2008. But the city's facility is not close to construction; a group of investors failed in its bid for a license after failing to produce required fees and detailed plans.

Rawlings-Blake said she sees "little difference" between table games and slots.

The view is similar to that of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who said she was surprised that the state didn't allow table games from the onset. "People are not going to just want the slots," Dixon said.

Allowing table games in Maryland would require an amendment to the state constitution. Del. Frank Turner, a Howard County Democrat, recently introduced a measure calling for such a referendum in November.

Neighboring states with slot machine parlors are moving toward poker and blackjack. Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, is supporting table games and West Virginia will offer table games as early as this summer. Last month, Delaware's governor signed a law expanding table games.

The Maryland slots commission recommended table games last month, with one commissioner saying that the state's gambling program is already "behind the curve."

Industry analysts say table games have little direct impact on a casino's revenues, but such facilities tend to provide more and higher-paid jobs.

Democratic state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller supports expanding gaming, and the chamber is considering a measure to study the effects of table games.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch recently said he does not want to readjust Maryland's gambling program before it is fully implemented.

"We have not gotten a nickel out of a slot machine yet," Busch said. "Before we talk about expanding, we ought to have the opportunity to complete the licensing process." Busch blocked gaming in the state for years before conceding in 2007 to put the question to the voters.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley is counting on some money from slot-machine gambling to help plug a $2 billion budget gap this year. In the longer term, the state expects hundreds of millions from the program.

Baltimore also stands to gain financially because of an arrangement that lets the city collect rent from a gaming operator. Those funds must be used for either property tax reduction or school construction.


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