ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Table games like blackjack and a new casino near the nation's capital would be permitted under a bill that passed the Maryland Senate on Friday.
The 28-14 vote came on the second day of a special session called by Gov. Martin O'Malley in hopes of resolving the difficult issue of gambling expansion. Swift passage had been expected in the Senate, which passed a bill earlier this year to expand gambling.
A closer vote is expected in the House of Delegates, where the measure stalled in the regular 90-day session in a tougher chamber for gambling legislation.
The bill would allow a casino in Prince George's County. A key part of the bill cuts Maryland's 67 percent tax rate on casinos to varying degrees. Voters would have to approve the expansion in November.
The vote came after senators spent much of the afternoon rejecting amendments, including one that would have stripped out a provision to ban political contributions from casino owners.
O'Malley, a Democrat, included the ban in the measure he submitted to the Legislature. The governor wanted it to apply to contributions from casino owners and certain employees of gambling companies, but a Senate committee loosened the provision to apply only to people with 5 percent ownership in a casino.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, wanted to remove the ban. He questioned why other groups with large financial interests before lawmakers should be able to donate money while casino owners couldn't. He also noted that the Democratic Governors Association, a national group headed by O'Malley, has accepted large contributions from gambling interests.
"I think it's an imposition of the executive branch as far as the campaign issues are concerned, and again it gets into a question of one dollar versus another dollar, a question of who this restricts and doesn't restrict," Pipkin said.
But Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said the ban was needed.
"I think our constituents are concerned about the undue influence that this industry might have for us," Madaleno said.
The Senate approved an amendment by Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Harford, that will allow a planned casino in western Maryland and a casino near Ocean City to buy or lease their owns slot machines. The measure initially allowed the state's larger casinos to keep 6 percent more revenue, if they relieve the state of the expensive responsibilities of owning the machines.
Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett, also succeeded in getting an amendment in the bill to help casino owners at the Rocky Gap Lodge and Resort to use some of their proceeds to pay for infrastructure to house its slot machines. Last month, the Evitts Resort LLC said it failed to find financing to build an addition on to the lodge. Now, it will put the slot machines in meeting space inside the lodge. However, it will have to find additional meeting space in three years.
In other business, the Senate passed a measure 41-1 to create a strict liability standard for owners of all dogs, not just pit bulls. The measure is a response to a controversial ruling by the state's highest court that determined pit bulls to be "inherently dangerous" animals. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruling in April created a breed-specific, strict liability standard for owners of pit bulls or pit bull breeds. The bill also reverses a part of the ruling that made landlords strictly liable for pit bull bites.
Meanwhile, the House of Delegates convened Friday morning for the first time during the special session. The House Ways and Means Committee met to consider the governor's gambling proposal.