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Senate Panel OKs Bill To Add Sixth Casino, Table Games

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- A panel of state senators is supporting legislation that would add table games like blackjack and roulette to Maryland gambling.

The bill would also pave the way for a sixth state casino license in Prince George's County and increase the share of profits that casino operators retain. It advanced Friday afternoon with a 10-2 vote in the Budget and Taxation Committee.

The measure would increase the money casino owners get to keep from slots revenue from 33 to 40 percent and eliminate restrictions on food and beverage services at existing slots parlors.

If the Legislature passes the bill it will have to be ratified by a majority of Maryland voters.

Senators also amended the plan to change an education funding formula to better reflect the income levels of wealthy counties and give Prince George's voters the ultimate say in whether a 4,750-slot machine casino is built there.

If Prince George's voters shoot down the plan, the extra casino proposal would die and the slots parlor owners would not see an increase in their take.

However, if that happens, but a majority of statewide voters OK the referendum, the state would be relieved of an obligation to buy slot machines, which has proved to be an ineffective expense, said Warren Deschenaux, the General Assembly's chief budget analyst.

When lawmakers approved the framework for the slot machine plan in a special session in 2007, they decided the state should purchase the machines to ensure greater oversight.

The bill would allow operators to keep another 8 percent of their proceeds in exchange for taking over the purchase of the machines.

"We're not making as much money as it appears that we are because out of a separate account we're paying for a big chunk of operating costs, that you could legitimately argue belong with the operator," Deschenaux said.

The two senators who voted against the legislation, Verna Jones-Rodwell, D-Baltimore, and James DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel, represent counties where slot machine parlors are already slated to be located.

DeGrange said he liked the bill, but worries about the effect the measure could have on slots sites that have yet to open.

In 2008, Maryland voters approved licenses for slot machines at five locations. Two slots parlors, one in Perryville and another outside Ocean City, have already opened and a third location is expected to be online in Anne Arundel County in June.

Last week officials representing the sole applicant hoping to put a slots parlor in downtown Baltimore, Caesars Entertainment Corp., said they support the bill because the table games provision would create a better marketplace for gaming, but that a sixth casino would create unwanted competition.

The bill includes a 10 percent tax on table games, which would be directed to local governments.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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