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Maryland gambling debate splits Washington County Republicans in Annapolis

August 15, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

The just-finished debate over whether Maryland should legalize table games and add a sixth casino cut through political parties and county delegations.

Of the six Republicans representing Washington County in Annapolis, three voted in favor of the final bill crafted during the recent Maryland General Assembly special session and three voted against.

Both Democrats in Washington County’s delegation voted yes.

For Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, who voted for the bill, the question was what would benefit his constituents the most.

The issue loomed larger in Allegany County than Washington County because of attempts to start a casino at Rocky Gap, one of five sites previously approved for slot machines.

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Myers said he’s disappointed that the license holder at Rocky Gap plans to place slot machines inside the lodge to start — cutting into space for conferences — instead of building a separate facility.

The bill the legislature just passed says Rocky Gap can’t have table games in the lodge, which should motivate the licensee to build a separate facility for gambling, Myers said.

Myers, a member of the Veterans Caucus in Annapolis, said he also liked that the bill was amended to let veterans’ groups in each county have electronic bingo machines.

Above all, he said, voters will get to decide on the proposed gambling expansion, just as they did when slots were legalized in Maryland.

Sen.Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who voted yes, concluded that the positives outweighed the negatives in the bill and that National Harbor is the right site for a sixth casino.

The provision for gaming machines for veterans was a factor for him, too.

“Some of those veterans’ organizations are hanging on a by a thread,” he said.

Shank said he likes that the gambling expansion will lead to construction jobs, although he doesn’t think gambling is the best way to create jobs.

Shank was not moved by the argument that the state should protect the original five casino locations from future competition.

“That’s how business works,” he said.

One of the negatives in the bill, Shank said, was the attempt to craft special deals for certain casino sites, seemingly based on connections and lobbying.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, who voted no, disagreed on protectionism. He said the state set ground rules for the initial five licensees, then changed the rules before the casinos had a chance to get going.

In fact, with some of the originally approved casino sites still not open, the state has no way to study the economic landscape and know whether a sixth site could work, he said.

Overall, the special session was an exercise in arm-twisting, Parrott said, and never should have happened; there was no emergency.

Parrott also had a different take on the electronic bingo machines. He said that was a last-minute expansion that affects every part of the state, yet there was no input from the counties that would be affected.

“It’s embarrassing what happened here in Annapolis,” he said.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, also voted against the gaming-expansion bill, calling it a “rush to judgment” that easily could have waited a year or two.

“We don’t have the original five (casinos) built yet and we’re adding a sixth,” he said.

Since there’s only so much discretionary income from which casinos can draw, he said, a new casino is likely to steal customers from the ones already approved.

“It’s going to be cannibalism,” he said.

Serafini was less opposed to the legalization of table games.

He said he struggles with the idea that the state is trying to fix its fiscal problems with gambling. But, since slots already have been approved, it would be foolish for the state to not include table games as part of the mix, he said.

In a voice-mail message, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who voted for the bill, said: “This was all about infrastructure and jobs, both of which we very greatly need in Washington County.”

How they voted

Here’s how local lawmakers voted on a bill to add a sixth casino site in Maryland and to allow table games:

Del. John P. Donoghue (D) — Yes
Del. Michael J. Hough (R) — No
Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. (R) — Yes
Del. Neil C. Parrott (R) — No
Del. Andrew A. Serafini (R) — No
Sen. George C. Edwards (R) — Yes
Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R) — Yes
Sen.Ronald N. Young (D) — Yes

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