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Doubling Down

Maryland lawmakers return to take up gambling in their ­second special session of the year — here’s what you need to know

    Opening Thursday, August 9 and running “two or three days,” according to Sen. President Thomas V. ‘Mike’ Miller, a champion of expanded gambling.
    Certainly no than 30 days; the Maryland Constitution forbids it. But in the fall of 1991, a special session on congressional redistricting came close, running from Sept. 25 to Oct. 22.

    To prepare a ballot question on gambling for the Nov. 6 general election, asking voters whether:
    1. To expand gambling permission from slot machines to table games;
    2. To allow a sixth casino, this one in Prince George’s County.
    Why call a special session to do that?
    “Special sessions are called,” says Dan Nataf, director of Anne Arundel Community College’s Center for the Study of Local Issues, “because there was no consensus during the regular session.”
    Failure of consensus: The senate approved a sixth casino during the regular session; the House declined to debate the issue.
    The need: Aug. 20 is the deadline for items to appear on the November ballot.

The Rationale
    Fiscal urgency is the bigger issue, according to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who counts five good reasons for expanded gambling:
    • Creating thousands of new construction jobs and 2,000 new permanent jobs with family-supporting wages.
    • Maximizing the return on Maryland gambling to keep Maryland dollars in Maryland.
    • Adding $100 million in new revenues to Maryland’s No. 1-ranked public schools.
    • Putting certainty and predictability in the marketplace.
    • Protecting local, city and county aid being generated at current gambling sites.

Gambling Only?
    O’Malley has said that this special session of the General Assembly will be “dedicated to resolving issues on Maryland gambling.”
    Maryland has no law restricting the business of special sessions. But most stay close to the topic a session was called for; bills on other topics tend to die.
What You Won’t Vote On
    Lots of details, including where in Prince George’s County a sixth casino might rise and who would run it. Or how revenues would be shared, among the casinos, Maryland and local governments. For example, would Maryland’s take remain 67 percent? More? Less?

Ayes — and Whys
    Standing up with O’Malley were Sen. President Miller and Speaker Mike Busch. An earlier opponent of gambling, Busch now seems part of a “compromise” that, O’Malley said, will enable us “to move forward on other pressing issues confronting the state.”
    Making the compromise palatable, Busch explained, are “mitigating concerns about diminishing site revenues.” He promised: “We’ll make sure the counties with existing sites [including Anne Arundel] get the full share and lose none of the monies expected.”
    Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III says a sixth casino would mean “money going into the state of Maryland and Prince George’s County.” But only if Prince George’s citizens agree.
    “Local counties should have some say,” Busch said. “And if the good citizens of Prince George’s decide to vote against [a sixth site] they will not get it.”
    The AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and D.C. Building Trades also stood behind O’Malley at his July 27 announcement of the special session. Unions are putting their money where their mouths are, supporting big ads in favor of expanded gambling.

The Nays
    The Maryland Republican Party is not happy about a second special session.
    “This has been the Summer of Union Handouts with teachers’ unions getting their own special session in May and now the trade unions getting their own special session in August,” said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin.
    From Washington, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance said the session serves “the interests of casino operators at the expense of state residents and taxpayers.” The Alliance pays for the big-market television ad Fast One.
    Add to the Nay column David S. Cordish, chairman of Cordish Cos., owner of Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills, who fears shrunken profits.

Will It Be a Peaceable Session?
    Contention is likely. Brawls and duels are not, according to an unofficial historical review of special sessions by the library of the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

How Much Will It Cost?
    Up to $25,000 per day, depending on when a special session is held and how long it lasts.

How Special Are Special Sessions?
    August 9’s special session will be this year’s second.
    Since the Revolutionary War, 60 special sessions have been called, with next week’s making 61.
    2012’s two special sessions are the first twins since 1992, when two sessions closely followed a pair in 1991. Earlier twins were called in 1985 and 1973. Two have been the tops, at least for the last 40 years.
    This year’s first, May 14 to 16, completed another pressing issue: fiscal year’s 2013 state budget.

What’s Next?
    This week, the gambling expansion bill is being drafted.
    Next, the Maryland General Assembly debates whether to pass the bill, which in turn will determine whether voters get to decide in November.