The state Senate gave preliminary approval to an expansion of gambling into Prince George's County, voting for a measure Friday that would allow card games at the faltering Rosecroft Raceway pending a voter-supported constitutional amendment.
The measure, a local bill backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, stirred a broad debate about enhancing gambling options in Maryland, which is struggling to launch a slot-machine program approved by voters in 2008.
Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the local bill should be expanded and supported a proposal allowing card games at Maryland's five authorized slot-machine venues, as well as at Rosecroft.
"All of the states around us are better situated," said Kelley, pointing out that West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania have approved table games such as roulette and poker.
But her plan was defeated on the Senate floor, with opponents saying that such a growth in gambling should first be considered by a committee.
"To now suddenly expand this statewide runs afoul of transparency efforts," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat.
Senators also noted that the Prince George's County delegation did not want to be part of the statewide slots program. Voters there approved the plan with the assumption they would not be part of it, they said.
The debate on Rosecroft will be carried over to next week, because senators adopted a potentially unconstitutional amendment requiring that a majority of Prince George's County voters - not just state voters - approve the ballot question for it to pass.
If approved by the Senate, the measure would need to pass the House of Delegates.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee also effectively killed a proposal from Baltimore Sen. Catherine E. Pugh that would have allowed table games at slots facilities. Instead, the panel authorized a study of how table games would affect gambling in the state.