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Multiple gambling debates ensnare Washington County on last day of Md. General Assembly

April 09, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Washington County got caught up in the crossfire of multiple gambling debates Monday as the Maryland General Assembly’s session wound down.

In one case, Washington County’s delegates walked out of the House chamber rather than take a precarious vote that, they thought, could have hurt their own interests.

Also, a delegation bill pertaining to Washington County’s tip-jar gaming was bottled up, and apparently died, in a House committee preoccupied with a controversial proposal paving the way for a casino in Prince George’s County.

The casino gambling bill loomed large Monday, the session’s final day, when it was bogged down and appeared to be preventing the legislature from reaching an agreement on a fiscal year 2013 budget.

Late last month, the Senate approved a bill for a statewide referendum on expanding gambling. If voters approve it, there would be a Prince George’s casino site, adding to five previously agreed-upon sites across the state. Table games could be added at all of the casinos.

Two of the five slots facilities have opened. Work on a third is under way.

The number of slot machines across the state under the new proposal would be capped at 15,000, the amount voters approved in a statewide referendum in 2008. Therefore, the number of slots at some already approved sites would be cut back.

On Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee debated an overhauled version of the Senate bill.

Two Washington County delegates on the committee — Andrew A. Serafini and LeRoy E. Myers Jr. — questioned the proposal.

Myers suggested boosting the number of statewide slot machines to 20,000, but Del. Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, who shepherded the bill through the House committee, said he didn’t think more slots would be needed.

Serafini questioned other provisions in the bill.

The committee approved the new version of the bill 14-4. Serafini and Myers both abstained. Serafini said there were too many unknowns.

After the vote, Serafini said a Washington County bill — expanding the definition of an “amusement device” and letting the $2 fee for tip-jar stickers be subtracted from gross profits — couldn’t make it out of the committee because of the casino bill.

Earlier in the day, a bill creating new state oversight over electronic bingo machines triggered another debate.

To address concerns by Western Maryland delegates, the bill had been amended to clarify that tip-jar gaming would not be included.

Then, on the House floor, a Baltimore County delegate tried to also exempt Baltimore County. The amendment failed 63-60.

Six Western Maryland delegates — Serafini, Myers, John P. Donoghue and Neil C. Parrott of Washington County, plus Kevin Kelly and Wendell R. Beitzel — left the chamber during the vote.

Later, Donoghue said the delegates didn’t want to get in the middle of a squabble among other lawmakers and risk having the bill changed in either the House or the Senate, putting Washington County’s tip-jar system in jeopardy.

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