ANNAPOLIS – Despite a Senate vote Thursday to approve a slot machine bill, the fate of the legislation remains as uncertain as ever.
The Senate voted 25-22 Thursday to approve the House slots bill, which has been amended to conform exactly to the upper chamber’s bill.
House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, who has blocked slots for two years, said the bill as changed by the Senate now could not win enough delegate votes to pass, even if he wanted it — which he doesn’t.
“I think the Senate’s action means it jeopardizes any chance there will be slots,” said Busch.
The House Ways and Means Committee has yet to schedule a meeting on the Senate’s slots bill, which is more extensive than the House version.
Fewer machines — 9,500 — would be allowed under the House bill, which also specifies the counties that may have them: Anne Arundel, Allegany, Frederick and Harford. The Senate would allow 15,500 video slot machines in venues selected by a special panel.
Prince George’s County and Baltimore, home to several major horse racetracks, were dropped from the list of potential sites to gain support from their delegates.
The House version barely received the minimum 71 votes needed for passage.
The General Assembly’s strongest slots supporter, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, sees “incremental progress” being made with the House.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, could not be reached for comment. Spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said the governor still “feels there’s room for negotiation and progress.”
“There’s still ample time in the session to reach a resolution. I mean, 30 days is a lifetime,” she said.
Ehrlich has urged lawmakers to pass a slots bill so the revenue can go toward fixing the state’s aging public schools.
Busch has met with Ehrlich in recent days to discuss the issue, but maintains the votes simply aren’t there to pass anything other than the House version of the bill.
“The votes cast in the House bill were predicated on where the slots were located,” Busch said.
Local concerns were also on minds in the more slots-friendly Senate Thursday. Three senators reversed their positions on the bill even though it’s identical to their chamber’s bill.
Verna Jones and Lisa Gladden, both Democrats from Baltimore City, voted “nay” on the rewritten House bill.
This time around, Jones said, she could not stomach a bill that did not preclude her home city from having slots — as the House bill’s original language did.
“For the last three years, it’s been just consuming too much time,” Jones said. On the first floor vote, “I felt there should be some movement.”
Gladden said she would have liked to have seen the Senate adopt the House’s language tying local grants to lottery ticket sales — benefiting Baltimore, which has high lottery sales.
“People more experienced in this environment would say perhaps Mike Busch is going to blink,” Gladden said. “He hasn’t.”
Thomas McLain Middleton, D-Charles, supported the amended House bill.