Md. Senate OKs poker parlor at Prince George's racetrack

O'Malley administration, House leaders don't want gambling plan changed

March 25, 2010|By Annie Linskey | annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Maryland's Senate approved Wednesday a poker 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 gambling plan to be altered.

The Senate bill is narrowly tailored to allow card games at Rosecroft, a financially troubled racetrack in Fort Washington. The bill would place a statewide question on 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 purchasing the 130-acre track for about $9 million.

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

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

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

It would amend the state program approved by voters in November 2008, which allows five slots-only casinos and levies a 67 percent tax on gambling revenue. None of those casinos have opened, and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Wednesday that they are wary of changing the program before it gets 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 "there has not previously been a lot of support" for gambling in the county and that 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 that the proposal before the voters did not specifically mention gambling 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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