Los Angeles Times

House panel would guarantee higher tax break for casino owners

A House subcommittee has voted to amend the governor's gambling bill to give larger guaranteed tax breaks to casino operators in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore and to allow a casino in Cecil County to apply for a tax break.

Del. Frank Turner, the subcommittee chair, said lawmakers examined financial impact studies commissioned by the General Assembly and felt the casinos would need the help if the state allows a sixth casino to open. "We looked at the venues and how they'd be affected," Turner said.

The committee members made the changes so quickly -- and with so little discussion -- that many in the packed hearing room did not realize initially that the tax rates were being changed. House leaders had earlier objected to lowering the tax rate on casino operators.

The Maryland Live casino in Anne Arundel County would see its tax rate cut from the current 67 percent to 51 percent over the next couple of years, with an option to bring it down to 49 percent if an independent commission agreed. The casino would have to take over the cost of buying slot machines and also spend about half of the tax break on marketing, promotion and capital investment.

The planned Baltimore casino, owned by a group led by Caesers Entertainment, would see its tax rate go from 67 percent to 54 percent -- with the option to seek a reduction to 51 percent.

Also, the panel agreed to let the Hollywood Casino Perryville owners make a case to the commission to chop 5 points off their tax rate. Under Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal, that venue's rate would drop from 67 percent to 61 percent to compensate for a new requirement that the company take over the cost of buying slot machines. Under the House subcommittee proposal, the rate could drop to 56 percent if an independent commission agreed.

The full Ways and Means Committee was expected to go back to work this evening to vote on the bill, and the measure was still expected to be on the House floor later this evening. Most of the full House debate was expected to be Tuesday.

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