By AARON CARTER
ANNAPOLIS (April 4, 2012)—Two members of the House Ways and Means Committee said Wednesday they don't believe a full-fledged, Las Vegas-style casino will head to Prince George's County as the legislative session comes to an end.
The bill must first receive favorable votes in committee before it is even voted on in the full House. It would legalize table games at five approved sites throughout the state and allow a sixth casino in a large swath of Prince George's County that includes National Harbor and Rosecroft Raceway.
The bill has already passed in the Senate.
Delegate Melvin Stukes, D-Baltimore, and a member of Ways and Means, said Prince George's had its chance in 2007.
"The point is you could have had this, you probably would have been up and out of the ground and running, you probably would have been the first one online," Stukes said. "But you opted out (in 2007), now you want to opt back in."
In 2007, the state approved five sites for gaming in Maryland. Only two of those sites, the Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County, and the Casino at Ocean Downs in Worcester County, are operational. Prince George's County elected not to pursue a site in 2007.
But the bill's sponsor said changes in the county forced reconsideration.
Sen. Douglas J. J. Peters, D-Prince George's, testified at a House Ways and Means hearing Tuesday, that because of the troubled economy the county has been forced to look for ways to generate revenue.
"And the county executive has come on board," Peters said. "We didn't have that before."
If the bill fails to pass, Peters said, the county's revenue-generating capabilities look bleak.
"They don't have that many options," Peters said. "They're really going to have to cut, which is going to be painful."
Delegate Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, and chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Finance Resources, said the bill is flawed and not likely to receive a favorable vote.
Turner said it isn't just a local issue, but also a state issue. Because casino operators would receive 90 percent of table game revenue, with the other 10 percent going to the host county, Turner said, it's not in the state's best interest.
"In its current condition, no I don't think it will (pass)," Turner said. "There would have to be a lot of changes in order for this to go through, you'd almost have to rewrite the entire bill."
Turner said the bill will be taken to his subcommittee on Thursday or Friday.
With only two of the five-approved sites generating revenue, Turner provided his prescription.
"I think we need to go slow ... we need to open the five, we need to bring on the table games and we ought to see what kind of revenue they bring," Turner said.
Joe Weinberg, president of the Cordish Cos. Gaming & Resorts Division, was in Annapolis Wednesday trying to help kill the bill. The Cordish Cos. Maryland Live! casino in Anne Arundel is slated to open in June.
"It's no secret we've been opposed to the bill," Weinberg said. When asked who he talked to and what the outcome was, Weinberg paused with a wry smile.
"We talked to anybody who would listen," he said.
While Stukes and Turner don't believe the bill can pass as constituted, both concede anything can happen.
"Right now we can take it or leave it. Probably 51-49 to leave it alone—that's how close it is," Stukes said.