The delegate who chairs the House’s gambling subcommittee still doesn’t think there will be a special legislative session this summer to expand gaming in Maryland. And if there is one, the only topic should be permitting table games at the existing slots casinos, not adding a sixth casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Del. Frank Turner told MarylandReporter.com Sunday.
“I guess my new name is Frank ‘Casino’ Turner,” the Howard County delegate told a small crowd at a Columbia Democratic Club picnic.
Turner, chair of the financial resources subcommittee that oversees gambling legislation, shared with some of his constituents how House Speaker Michael Busch had given him 20 reasons why he should chair the gaming panel in 2007 and not the education appropriations subcommittee, where Turner wanted to stay.
Turner said that 25 years ago, as a business professor at Morgan State University, he wrote an academic paper critical of casino gambling, and “I still believe they’re not great.”
Turner said he recently took a tour of gambling operations in nearby West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and “they all had Maryland license plates” in their parking lots.
“If we’re going to spend the money, we might as well spend it in Maryland,” Turner said.
Still getting pressure
Turner, who served on the governor’s gambling workgroup that failed to reach a consensus on an expansion of gambling, said he’s still under pressure to approve a sixth casino. “It hasn’t stopped,” and he’s got meetings that will keep it up in the coming week, one with MGM Entertainment that wants to operate the National Harbor site and another with a Canadian group.
“This has been the longest session I’ve ever had,” said Turner, in his 17th year in the House. “It seems like it’s never going to end.”
He added that expanding table games to all the casinos, which would require a referendum, and giving the casino operators control over the purchase and maintenance of the video lottery terminals, which could be done without a referendum, would raise most of the revenue that a sixth casino, with lower tax rates, would bring in.
Still short of votes in the House
Other reports have made much about the efforts that Gov. Martin O’Malley is making with county executives and legislative leaders Monday and Tuesday to promote a special session. But the problem, as Turner’s remarks make clear, is in the House of Delegates, where the votes still are lacking.
O’Malley did not make rounding up votes easier when he criticized the House leadership the day after a workgroup compromise collapsed. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, a former delegate, also did not improve chances in the House when he said Speaker Busch misled him about the prospects.
And Senate President Mike Miller, perhaps the strongest legislative advocate of a sixth casino, broke his long silence on the issue last week by telling a Prince George’s business meeting that the House didn’t understand budgeting, according to a Gazette story.
And by some reports, O’Malley and staff have made little effort to round up the votes in the House that could give a special session a chance of success.
According to Adam Bednar in North Baltimore Patch.com, Del. Maggie McIntosh, a committee chair, said Thursday that the Baltimore City delegation would have to be satisfied that the yet unbuilt Baltimore City site would not be harmed before they voted to approve the National Harbor site. That’s pretty much what a number of city delegates said three months ago in a post-session wrap-up.
All in all, the only thing that seems to be moving much on the special session is the lips of those who want to see it happen.