Mayor urges delegation: Lay off casino horse-trading

August 01, 2012|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged members of the Baltimore House delegation to  resist the urge to use the gambling expansion bill that will be the subject of a General Assembly special session next week as leverage for a wish list of the city's other needs.

In a letter to the delegation, the mayor told city lawmakers that any effort to hold back their votes in exchange for unrelated items could lead to the collapse of an effort that would include allowing table games at the planned casino in downtown Baltimore -- something both Rawlings-Blake and the prospective operator of the gambling hall want.

"I understand the desire to leverage the most your vote, but to me,  the idea of a new $50 million per year funding source is the prize," the mayor wrote, referring to the extra revenue the city expects from an expanded casino.

Members of the city's House delegation were planning to meet Tuesday night at the city parks headquarters in Druid Hill Park to discuss the proposed casino legislation, which would allow table games at all Maryland casinos as part of a deal that would allow a sixth gambling site to open in Prince George's County.

So far, some members of the Baltimore House delegation have been wary of the proposal, expressing concern that allowing a Prince George's casino could cut into the revenues from the city casino for which Caesars Entertainment was awarded a state license Tuesday.

Some Baltimore delegates, among them city delegation chairman Curt Anderson, have expressed a determination to vote against the bill unless some of Baltimore's most pressing needs -- including a steady source of school construction money and increased bonding authority for such projects -- are addressed in the special session. The prospect that the city delegation would force legislative leaders to horse-trade for their votes has led to concerns that their demands would set off a feeding frenzy among other delegations -- each seeking treats to bring back home.

Rawlings-Blake assured lawmakers she supports their efforts to bring more school construction money to the city but stressed that she does not believe that issue should hold up the city's support for expanded gambling.

"On its own merits, this bill increases education funding, creates jobs and will help Baltimore reduce property taxes for city homeowners," the mayor wrote.

Still to be determined is whether the mayor wields much clout among lawmakers, few of whom owe her much politically and some of whom are old political rivals.

The mayor did urge city lawmakers to insist on some conditions berfore they support a sixth casino. She backed a tax decrease for the existing operators -- including Caesars -- when the new casino come on line in order to reflect increased competition. And Rawlings-Blake pressed for language in the bill to ensure that Caesars could not abandon its Baltimore plans in an effort to become a casino operator in Prince George's. Caesar's has said it has no intention of seeking a spot in the Prince George's market.

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