Annapolis – House Republicans today reaffirmed their vehement opposition to a Special Session on gaming. The House Republicans are sending a strong message of opposition to those interests who insist on pressing forward on a special session in a less than transparent process.
“Even though the original date for the Special Session has passed, it is clear that the Governor and powerful gambling interests are working behind the scenes to make this Special Session for their Special Friends a reality”, said House Minority Leader Anthony J. “Tony” O‟Donnell. “We want to make it clear that our 43-member Caucus still adamantly opposes, in the strongest terms possible, any Special Session on gambling. There is no crisis or emergency demanding an extraordinary special session. The best way to deal with the public policy issue of expanded gambling is through the normal order of the regular legislative session in January.”
In May, the Governor appointed a workgroup to study the expansion of gambling in the state. The workgroup was tasked with giving recommendations by the end of June, with a tentative date for Special Session set for July 9th. However, there was significant disagreement amongst the exclusively Democrat voting members of the workgroup. With the workgroup unable to reach consensus, a Special Session has not yet been called.
“From the moment the Governor appointed this workgroup, our caucus has been adamant that this get-it-done quick approach to expanding gambling was not in the best interests of Maryland”, said House Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. “The failure of the workgroup to reach consensus underscores the complex nature of this issue. It is irresponsible to push legislation through without fully vetting the ramifications of such a change. The citizens of Maryland expect more from their representatives in Annapolis.”
In June the Governor announced a deal with MGM Resorts International to build a casino at National Harbor. Operators for the original five casinos were selected through a competitive bidding process. A textbook example of bad government and cronyism, this new sweetheart arrangement with MGM was apparently arrived at in a non-public closed door deal. MGM and some of the current slots licensees are pushing for a lower tax rate for the casinos – just months after the General Assembly increase taxes on Maryland citizens by over $350 million. MGM has begun a very expensive public relations campaign and are vigorously lobbying state officials for a Special Session.
“The arrogance of this process is just nauseating”, said O‟Donnell. “The notion that this Governor would strike some backroom deal with MGM and Prince George‟s County Senator Mike Miller is quite astounding. We find no redeeming qualities to this back room deal or to some of its principles. Offering these special interests a lower tax rate and no competitive bidding for a new location and then turning those same interests loose to hound the General Assembly sounds more like something out of a Mario Puzo novel than what should be the transparent operation of government. Regardless of how you feel about expanding gambling, this aberrant and low-brow behavior does not pass the smell test. I think several dozen legislators, including many who otherwise support gaming expansion, may be reluctant to participate in such a disgusting process. In fact, many of our caucus members are advocating a boycott to help engage Marylanders and to advise the rest of the nation of our disgust should this Governor call a Special Session for his ‘special’ friends.”