House majority leader sees yes vote on gambling

August 14, 2012|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

A key ally of Speaker Michael E. Busch expressed confidence that the votes will be there to pass Gov. Martin O'Malley's gambling expansion bill when it comes to the floor of the House of Delegates Tuesday.

"I think we're going to have the votes. I think it's looking very good,"  Majority Leader Kumar Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat, predicted after House Democrats held a caucus behind closed doors.

Barve said several large delegations have backed off earlier statements that they would try to extract concessions for their jurisdictions in return for their votes. He said House leaders have discouraged attempts to seek other legislation or big-ticket promises during the special session that House leaders hope to wrap up Tuesday night.

"We're not going to make this into a feeding frenzy," Barve said. "All of us in leadership feel this way. We feel that this (bill) stands on its merits."

The legislation would allow a new casino to open inPrince George's Countyand permit table games there and at the five currently licensed slots-only sites. It would also cut tax rates for some existing casinos to compensate for the added competition of a sixth site.

Barve said that with the state budget still facing a long-term shortfall, members are being counseled to keep their requests moderate.

"The bottom line is we're in very tight financial times and it's really hard to make any level of promise to anybody," he said.

Barve said his  home county benefits from the bill even without additional goodies. "Whatever revenues are raised that don't involve taxes, that in and of itself is good for Montgomery County," he said.

Several weeks ago, the Baltimore delegation was threatening to withhold its votes unless it achieved a laundry list of demands, including passage of bills raising the debt ceiling for city school construction and guaranteeing a minimum annual  level of state aid for that purpose. But when the special session started, no legislation along those lines was introduced, and talk of withholding votes for concessions outside the casino bill itself has died down.

Delegates from other jurisdictions also said they were disinclined to hold up the bill over unrelated issues. Some said that instead of seeking action now on local concerns, they were using the opportunity to press House leaders for action next year.

Del. Guy Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat, said lawmakers are focusing on the revenue potential of the bill -- estimated at $200 million annually before a House committee made some changes Monday that could reduce that amount.

"This is an opportunity to take some revenues, end the deficit and move on," Guzzone said. ""If this thing gets lit up like a Christmas tree, that would be completely at odds with that."

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