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Monday, March 8, 2010:

The Agenda

Odds are, hand-wringing about slots will continue

Me in dots.jpgSlot-machine gambling, an issue which dominated so many past legislative sessions, is about to surface on this year's agenda.

As we reported over the weekend, Maryland's slots program has stumbled out of the gate, and revenue projections for the coming three years are now only half what they once were. That outlook assumes the planned casino at Arundel Mills mall -- which would be the state's largest by far -- opens close to on time. And that prospect has been thrown into doubt by what now appears to be a successful petition drive to force a public vote in November affecting the project's future.

What are lawmakers to do?

Inside casino.jpgThe truth is, there's not really much they can do right now. Or more precisely: There's not much they can do that would provide an immediate fix.

Hearings are scheduled in coming weeks on bills that would allow table games in Maryland casinos, for example. Surrounding states are already moving in that direction. Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has made it clear, however, that he doesn't think the state needs to embrace blackjack, roulette and craps before its first slot machines are put in place.

Gambling industry analysts will tell you that such games don't really generate that much profit. Table games create jobs and lure more customers into casinos. But they are far more costly to operate than slots, because of the employees needed to run them and to provide additional security.

Thumbnail image for Table games.jpgEven if Busch and others had a change of heart, Marylanders wouldn't be counting cards anytime soon. Under the state's 2008 Constitutional amendment allowing slots, voters would have to approve any further expansion of the state's gambling program. If lawmakers were to act this session, voters could have their say in November. Otherwise, we're talking a couple more years before there's any real movement.

The same provision also slows the possibility of adding more lucrative locations to the five slots casinos that voters approved in 2008. From a fiscal standpoint, arguably the best thing the state could do is authorize a location that would be more accessible to District and Virginia residents. National Harbor would be an ideal site, if the developer wanted one and if Prince George's politicians were to rally around the idea. (Both are really big ifs.)

What's likely to emerge from this session will be far more modest. Last year, for example, a slots site authorized in Western Maryland drew no qualified bidders. By law, the casino must be built on state-owned land next to the Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort.

This year, a bill would make a few tweaks to make the location more attractive to potential operators. The operator would be allowed to put slot machines in the lodge itself on a temporary basis while the casino was being constructed. And an overhang could be constructed between the lodge and permanent casino, which isn't permitted under current law.

Such changes might prove helpful, but odds are, they won't end lawmakers' hand-wringing over revenue estimates anytime soon.

-- John Wagner

Slots money outlook.gif

News You Should Know (Weekend Roundup)

Report: O'Malley is no longer a 'safe' reelection bet
O'Malley-Ehrlich debate.jpg"Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's reelection prospects have been downgraded from "safe" to "narrow advantage" by one veteran national prognosticator," writes The Post's John Wagner. "Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who is gearing up for a rematch with O'Malley (D), should be regarded as a "very serious contender," says the Rothenberg Political Report, a publication headed by longtime political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. However, Rothenberg says, "the burden of proof is still on the Republicans" to show that Ehrlich can win in a heavily Democratic state.

Bill to allow wider campaigning is killed
"Painfully aware that they will spend the summer knocking on thousands of doors in preparation for the November election, Maryland state senators debated Friday changing the rules so they could go door-to-door in currently off-limits gated communities and condos," writes The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey. "'Homeowners associations should not be able to prevent campaigning in our form of government,' said Sen. Alex Mooney, a Republican who sponsored the measure, which was killed by a 26-21 vote. The proposal would have carved out a solicitation exception for politicians only, Mooney said. Salespeople and evangelists could still have been barred."

Mikulski decries GOP 'obstructionists,' opens campaign HQ
Mikulsi office.jpg"Dismissing recent reports of her retirement in the blogosphere as 'nothing but lies,' a fiery Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) on Sunday afternoon celebrated the 'grand opening' of her new campaign office in Baltimore," writes Wagner. "'I say when it's tough, it's time when the tough get going,' Mikulski said, acknowledging the recent decisions by some of her Senate colleagues not to run in what is shaping up as a challenging year for Democrats. "Mikulski said many in Maryland and elsewhere are 'mad as hell' but largely blamed Republican 'naysayers' and 'obstructionists,' whom Mikulski said are blocking President Obama's agenda on health care, jobs and other issues."

Legislation would crack down on child neglect
"It's easier to go to jail for neglecting a pet than it is for neglecting a child in Maryland, according to the office of the state's attorney general. Del. Galen R. Clagett, D-Frederick County, is trying to fix that, sponsoring a bill that would criminalize child neglect -- as the state has done for child abuse -- with a felony offense and maximum 10 years imprisonment, as well as a $10,000 fine," reports The Washington Examiner's Hayley Peterson. "The bill defines neglect as a 'pattern of failure' to provide 'basic needs' including food, clothing, essential medical treatment, shelter or supervision.

Wine shipping bill is all bottled up
Dereck Davis mug.jpg"The head of a key Annapolis committee said Friday that it 'will be a challenge' for his panel to endorse an end to a ban on direct wine shipments. Wine-lovers and state wineries have been pushing to overturn the prohibition for years but have been blocked by the state's powerful liquor lobby and lawmakers sympathetic to the industry," writes The Sun's Julie Bykowicz. "Del. Dereck E. Davis, a Prince George's County Democrat and head of the House Economic Matters Committee, sounded skeptical about the measure's prospects after hearing from both sides Friday."

MADD tries to win over House Judiciary Committee
"As the witness softly wept about her lost loved one, most members of the Maryland House Judiciary Committee were absorbed in the laptop computers open on their desks. Three of them were on Facebook," writes The Post's Ashley Halsey III, in a story that takes a look at testimony on ignition interlock bills.

The Week Ahead

• Deadline for lawmakers to introduce bills without suspension of rules.
• Budget hearings for WMATA and MTA.

• Senate Judicial Proceedings will consider Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler's proposal to end elections for Circuit Court judges.
• House committees will hear Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed expansion of the Heritage Tax Credit program.
• House Appropriations will consider a bill to alter state teacher pension costs

• Senate Judicial Proceedings will weigh changes to evidence required in death penalty cases.
• Senate Budget will hear testimony on a bill to add a 10 cent tax to alcohol
• Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown will testify on O'Malley's medical false claims act
• House Ways and Means will consider O'Malley's proposed extension of teacher tenure and other requirements to seek federal Race to the Top funding.

• House Ways and Means will hear the 10-cent alcohol tax bill
• Gov. O'Malley will travel to Capitol Hill to meet with state's congressional delegation


Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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Thursday, 5:30 p.m
Harry Brownes in Annapolis

By Aaron C. Davis  |  March 8, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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