A new gambling bill that would bolster the state’s casino industry and create a revenue windfall for parts of Maryland, including the city of Baltimore, is making its way through the Maryland General Assembly.

The bill passed the Senate last week as it gained the support of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who sent a letter to the House last Friday backing the bill. City Council President Jack Young also sent a letter of support for the measure, as did the city’s convention and tourism bureau chief, Tom Noonan of Visit Baltimore.

But with less than a week to go in the current session, the bill may stall in the House. On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee held its first hearing on the bill. Opponents say the new bill will create a windfall for the casino operators, not the state.

The new legislation, if passed, would expand the state’s current gambling operations by allowing a sixth gaming venue, proposed at the National Harbor in Prince George’s County. But where Baltimore and the remaining locations gain to stand the most is with the addition of table games such as blackjack and poker.

The current bill, passed in 2007, does not include table games. It also prohibits casino operators from offering free food and beverages or entertainment, big draws to gambling meccas such as Atlantic City.

Rawlings-Blake and other supporters are touting the taxes and jobs that an expanded gaming operation could bring to the city. In her letter, the mayor said $10 million in annual revenues from table games would be added to city coffers, in addition to $28 million in annual revenue already projected with video gaming venues.

“With regard to gaming, my top priority for the City of Baltimore is the establishment of world-class and a profitable gaming and entertainment destination that would create jobs, provide education funding to the state, and help reduce property taxes for our city homeowners,” she said.

A breakdown provided by the mayor’s office shows that of the $38 million in total revenues, $16.7 million in local impact aid would go to South Baltimore and $13.4 million for Park Heights, where Pimlico’s gaming facilities are located.

Rawlings-Blake initially opposed the bill, saying that a sixth gaming site in the state would “cannibalize” the Baltimore facility. She conceded in her letter that the city would face “a competitive disadvantage” without table gaming, but is supporting the new bill because it permits table games.

Table games would also add 500 jobs with $50,000 salaries to the 1,300 jobs already anticipated at a casino site approved near M&T Stadium. Caesars, a nationally known casino operator, is currently before the state’s slots commission seeking approval to run the casino. Caesars is the only casino operator to put down the $22 million license fee, “which is significant,” said Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for the mayor. “They made it clear that it would significantly upgrade their facility if the bill passed.”

Provisions in the current law for minority and women-owned businesses in construction and procurement would remain under the new law, said O’Doherty. “The more expensive the facility, the more construction and long-term jobs,” he said.

Young also points out in his letter the additional benefits to the downtown economy casinos draw as a tourists’ attraction, particularly to hotels and restaurants.

Opponents say casino operators would be allotted a bigger share of the revenue because the bill would adjust the tax rate for operators, an increase from the 33 percent they currently receive to 40 percent, and 49 percent in Prince George’s County. At the same time, contributions to the state’s Education Trust Fund would be decreased by seven percent to 41.5 percent.

State Senators C. Anthony Muse and Paul G. Pinsky, both representing Prince George’s County, opposed the bill, and House Delegate Melony G. Griffith, also of Prince George’s County has publicly stated she does not support the bill.

Maria Morales

Special to the AFRO