On Tuesday, Maryland’s racing community patted itself on the back for changing the time of a 39 year-old race.
On Wednesday, something actually important happened.
After a full day of closed session deliberations, the state’s Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion — a task force convened by Governor Martin O’Malley to determine whether and how to add table games and a new sixth casino location — announced that it had not reached sufficient consensus to recommend that the Governor call a special session of the legislature (here).
That decision makes it unlikely that a special session will occur this summer. Under Maryland’s Byzantine process to deal with gambling, voters must amend the state’s constitution to permit additional gambling facilities. Without a special legislative session to authorize such a vote in 2012, the earliest that voters could consider the additional facility would be 2014.
If you’re thinking that it’s beyond ridiculous that the state’s constitution explicitly sets forth the number and location of gaming facilities, well, you’re right — and welcome to Maryland.
Three members of the House of Delegates on the 11-member panel voted against the work group’s proposal, which would have added a sixth casino and lowered the tax rate on slot machines from its current level of 67 percent. The delegates specifically balked at lowering the tax rate, reasoning that reducing taxes on large corporations might be politically unpalatable in a state where taxes on ordinary citizens were raised only weeks ago.
For racing, this outcome is no bad thing. Under the current law, seven percent of slots revenue goes to purses and the bred fund. Many in the industry feared that a special session might take a whack out of the sport’s share, particularly since the current fiscal model appears unsustainable for the state. A bill passed by the Senate but rejected by the House late in the regular session would have eliminated any share for racing of revenues from the sixth slots site.
There’s still time for the Work Group to reach consensus. The proposed special session would not have started earlier than July 9, and with the group in broad agreement over many issues, the possibility exists to hammer out an agreement on tax rates that allows the package to move forward.
Still, Racing Commissioner Bruce Quade last week had described himself as “cautiously optimistic” that racing would come out of the Work Group’s process in one piece.
The chances of that happening just improved.