Senate passes bill that lets voters decide on card games at Rosecroft

March 24, 2010|By Annie Linskey | Baltimore Sun reporter

Maryland's Senate on Wednesday approved a poker-game emporium at a harness track in Prince George's County, but the idea faces resistance from leaders in the House of Delegates and the O'Malley administration who don't want the state's fledgling gaming plan to be altered.

The Senate bill is narrowly tailored to allow card games at Rosecroft, a financially troubled racetrack in Fort Washington. The Senate bill would add a statewide question to the November ballot.

"All we are asking everyone to do is to allow the card facility to be voted on by the citizens of Maryland," said Mark Vogel, a politically connected real estate developer who is in the process of purchasing the 130-acre track for roughly $9 million.

Because the facility is losing money, "without something, additional gaming, Rosecroft would close its doors," Vogel said, jeopardizing 200 jobs.

If tables games were permitted, 1,500 jobs could be generated by the track and related industries, he said. Poker tables would produce $250 million in gross gaming revenues during the first year of operations, according to a feasibility study Vogel commissioned.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller backed the gaming bill, which was sponsored by Prince George's Democrat C. Anthony Muse. "This is an emergency situation," said Muse last week. "We say jobs, jobs, jobs. This is one of the largest industries in my district." The measure passed Wednesday 34-to-13.

It would amend the state gaming program approved by voters in November 2008, which permits five slots-only casinos and levies a 67 percent tax on gaming revenues. None of those casinos have opened, and on Wednesday, both Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and House Speaker Michael E. Busch said they were wary of changing the program before it has started.

"If you did go to full-fledged table games and card games, that is something that everyone would want to take up at the five existing facilities, as well," Busch said. "I don't think we are quite there yet."

Del. Melony Griffith, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Prince George's County delegation, said that "there has not previously been a lot of support" for gaming in the county and she "doesn't have any indication that the sentiment has changed."

Griffith said she sympathizes with the financial problems facing the track. "I'm just not convinced that the delegation believes this is the best way to get us to that desired result," she said.

A majority of voters in Prince George's County approved the 2008 slots referendum, which some in the Senate viewed as evidence that voters there would support a casino. But Griffith disagreed, saying the proposal before the voters did not include gaming in Prince George's County.

"One might read the vote as an agreement to allow those jurisdictions who want to have slots in their communities to have them," she said. "I'm not sure that vote translates into support for gaming."

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