ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Tuesday night to a measure that would allow table games like poker at casinos in the state and a new gambling complex in Prince George's County.
The House was set to resume debating the measure and vote later in the evening.
Earlier Tuesday, the House amended the measure to allow veterans organizations to have five instant pull tab gambling machines at their facilities. Supporters said the change would benefit veterans, but critics described it as a last-minute effort to secure votes for the larger gambling measure.
The pull tab amendment, offered by Baltimore County Delegate Joseph Minnick, would raise money for veterans' organizations and the state. About 90 percent of the money that goes into the machines would be paid out to players. The other 10 percent would be split, with 6 percent for the veterans' organizations and 4 percent for the state. After 2014, the profits would go to a state veterans' fund.
The Senate would need to approve changes made by the House for the measure to be sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who called the session to generate more state revenue, create jobs and hopefully put a divisive issue behind the Legislature. Voters would then need to approve the changes in November.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a leading advocate for expanding gambling, told senators the changes, including ones to lower the tax rate for casino owners in Anne Arundel County and a planned casino in Baltimore, were minor.
"It's very similar to the bill we passed a few days ago, almost exactly similar, except for those two changes, and because of those two changes it's almost exactly similar to the bills we passed a year ago," said Miller, D-Calvert. He said he was willing to work past midnight if necessary to finish the special session.
Meanwhile, state budget analysts released revised revenue figures to factor in tax reductions for casino owners that were approved by a House committee Monday night. The panel approved the tax relief for a current casino in Anne Arundel County and a planned one in Baltimore to offset the impact of competition from a future Prince George's casino, likely down the Potomac River from Washington.
Analysts project the state's education trust fund would get about $174 million in additional gambling revenue for fiscal year 2017, assuming a license for the Prince George's County casino was awarded by then. That's about $32 million less than under the measure passed by the Senate last week, which contains smaller tax reductions.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Monday night lowered the tax rate by 8 percentage points for Maryland Live! casino in Anne Arundel County — the state's largest casino. The tax rate would be cut 7 percentage points for a planned casino in Baltimore.
Maryland now has a high 67 percent tax rate on slot machine proceeds.
In addition, Maryland Live! would get an added 8 percentage-point tax reduction for taking over ownership of slot machines, which are now owned by the state. Other Maryland casinos would have a 6 percentage-point tax reduction for buying the machines.
The changes mean Maryland Live! would keep 49 percent of the money generated by the casino, instead of 33 percent. The Baltimore casino would keep 46 percent.
Maryland Live! could later seek an additional 2 percent with approval from a new commission, and Baltimore could seek 3 percent more.
Supporters of the change said Maryland Live! is getting a bigger tax break, because the Cordish Cos., which owns the casino, can't get slot machines as cheaply as the other larger casinos in the state, which are owned by companies with casinos in other parts of the country. MGM Resorts International is interested in the Prince George's site. Caesars Entertainment has been awarded a license for the Baltimore casino. Penn National Gaming owns the casino in Perryville.
In other business, the House gave preliminary approval to a dog-biting liability measure that made changes to a bill passed last week by the Senate. One of the biggest changes narrows strict liability standards to the owner of a dog that is at large, or not on a leash. Lawmakers are considering the measure in response to an April decision by Maryland's highest court that created a strict liability standard for pit bull owners. The court found those dogs to be "inherently dangerous."