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Maryland Senate approves gambling measure

Saturday - 8/11/2012, 6:00am  ET

ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Senate approved a bill Friday night that will expand gambling in the state by adding a sixth casino site in Prince George's County and allow table games at all gambling locations.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, D, has said that his gambling expansion bill would lead to job growth and additional funding for education. The changes contained in the legislation could net $223 million in additional annual revenue for the state, according to an analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Senators spent much of the afternoon rejecting amendments, including one that would have lifted a provision in the bill to ban political contributions from casino owners.

O'Malley included the ban in the measure he has submitted to the General Assembly. The governor wanted it to apply to contributions from casino owners and certain employees of gambling companies, but a Senate committee changed the provision to include people with 5 percent ownership in a casino.

The chamber also rejected amendments from Frederick County Sens. Ron Young and David Brinkley.

Young, D-District 3, proposed an amendment that would allow nonprofit fraternal, religious and veterans groups to own up to five slot machines.

State law already allows nonprofit slot machines on the Eastern Shore, but not in other jurisdictions.

A bill to allow nonprofit slot machines throughout the state has passed through the Senate unanimously twice, but later failed in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said that although he'd previously supported stand-alone bills, he voted against Young's amendment and a similar one that would have covered the entire state because he didn't want to complicate the gambling bill with an issue known to be unfavorable to the Ways and Means Committee.

"Combined in this bill, it jeopardizes $200 million and 7,000 jobs," Miller explained.

The amendment failed 24-16.

Brinkley, R-District 4, introduced an amendment that would have changed state law to allow a casino operator to hold more than one site license within the state. The goal was to protect the horse breeding industry, Brinkley said. Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track in Fort Washington that is one of the potential sites in Prince George's County, is run by Penn National Gaming, which also owns Hollywood Casino Perryville.

Without a change in the state law, Penn National would have to choose between one site or the other if it has the winning bid for the Prince George's location.

"I do not want this sixth license to be a coronation for one site on the Potomac River," Brinkley said.

His amendment failed 31-12.

Brinkley and Young supported the final Senate version of the gambling bill, which passed 28-14.

"I've been supportive of some gambling in the state because we are losing money to other states and because it does bolster the horse racing industry, which helps the agriculture industry," Brinkley said. "And, ultimately, the voters have the final say."

The General Assembly's second special session this year was called by O'Malley on July 27 so a constitutional amendment can be drafted before the November general election.

The bill was still under consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday night. A subcommittee on gambling is expected to meet today to consider amendments. The full House of Delegates is expected to convene and consider amendments on Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.