House approves details on implementing slot machine gambling

The House managed the 71 votes needed to pass the measure. Forty-four delegates voted against the bill, 15 did not vote and 11 were absent for the vote that occurred after 1 a.m. House Speaker Michael Busch, who has been a wary critic of politically divisive Link Slot Deposit Pulsa Tanpa Potongan machine legislation considered in recent years, said voters will now get a year to consider where the machines would be placed and how the industry would be regulated.

“They’ll get a year to scrutinize it, and in November of 2008 you’ll have the purest form of democracy, which is a direct vote by eligible voters, the citizens of the state. I think it’s the appropriate way,” Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said.

The bill, which defines how 15,000 machines would be distributed in five locations, complements another measure the House barely managed to pass Friday night to hold a referendum on whether to legalize slot machines. The House vote on Friday was 86-52, just one vote above the 85 needed for a three-fifths majority, to put the politically difficult issue on the ballot for voters to decide in the form of a constitutional amendment.

The Senate already has approved two roughly similar bills. House and Senate negotiators were scheduled to either work out some differences between bills or concur with versions already passed on the slots measures, budget cuts and a $1.4 billion tax package Sunday afternoon and evening.

Republicans criticized the slots proposal, saying it was badly flawed in the way it distributes the revenue. Delegate Steve Schuh, R-Anne Arundel, recited a litany of expenses and financial components that he described as poor public policy.

An amendment that increased the slot machine operators share from the initially proposed 30 percent to 33 percent would cost the state about $40 million a year, Schuh said, and he attacked a provision designed to take millions of dollars a year to fix up horse racing facilities as “quite simply corporate welfare at its worst.”

“In my view, it’s an outrageous proposition,” Schuh said.

But Delegate Murray Levy, D-Charles, pointed out that about half of all the slot revenue will be directed to education, pumping about $10 billion into school construction over the next 15 years.

“The bill splits the money very efficiently,” Levy said.

The measure spells out a variety of details. It proposes putting 4,750 machines in Anne Arundel County, 2,500 in Cecil County, 2,500 in Worcester County, 3,750 in Baltimore city and 1,500 in Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland.

The bill was amended to require people who advocate for or against slots in the referendum to disclose how much money they spent on the effort, four weeks before the ballot initiative.

The House also accepted an amendment by Delegate D. Page Elmore, R-Wicomico, that prevents whoever ends up with a slot machine license at the Worcester County site to build lodging, a convention center, amusement rides, arcades or miniature golf within 10 miles of it. Elmore said the amendment was needed to protect businesses in nearby Ocean City.

The House rejected an amendment on a 61-63 vote to ban political donations from gambling interests and another amendment to allow smoking at slot facilities, which would be built well after a statewide smoking ban goes into effect early next year.

The House also shot down an amendment from Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, to significantly raise the amount of money charged for licensing fees. Under the bill, licensees would pay $3 million per 500 slot machines, adding up to a total of about $90 million. O’Donnell said the state could get much more, but opponents to his amendment said the state will get a better and steady revenue stream by keeping the license fees lower.

Seven percent of the money would go toward raising purses for horse races, a provision intended to help Maryland’s struggling racing industry.

Meanwhile, leaders in the General Assembly were planning to meet Sunday afternoon and evening to figure out ways to agree on amendments and simply concur on legislation passed by the House and Senate, instead of holding lengthy conference committees.

“Hopefully, we concur on some of their amendments and then take their bill,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller told his Senate colleagues in a brief Saturday afternoon session. “They can concur on our amendments and just take our bills. That’s what we’re kind of hoping for the endgame.”

Miller said lawmakers from both chambers would keep working informally to reconcile the two different $1.4 billion tax packages already passed. The House planned to reconvene at 5:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, and the Senate was set to gather at 6 p.m. for what lawmakers hope will be a final push toward adjournment.