Resolution urges Maryland to eschew river gambling

Riverboat gambling off the shores of Prince William in the Potomac River is feared by Virginia lawmakers and today they will vote on a resolution that tells Maryland not to do it.

House Resolution 74 introduced by Prince William Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th District, with 30 co-sponsors urges Maryland “to refrain from authorizing its state entities or political subdivisions to allow gambling in or on the shores of the Potomac River.”

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich is putting video lottery terminals at race tracks in Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore and a coming race track in Allegany County.

Marshall said the consideration begins a slippery slope for Maryland.

Maryland has jurisdiction over the Potomac River, going back to its charter from Great Britain, so that Virginia could not stop gambling on piers running from its shores, sponsors said.

“It’s absolutely the wrong thing for Prince William County,” said Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd District. “This is an issue before the Maryland Assembly that we don’t get a vote on. We need to express our opinion in very strong terms.”

There have been no suggestions for riverboat gambling, said Ehrlich’s deputy legislative officer Don Hogan. He said speculation about gambling at the new convention center envisioned for Prince George’s near the Wilson Bridge is unfounded. Erlich, a Republican, would not support a race track or gambling there, he said.

“He’s very strong about that the VLTs be limited to those four locations,” Hogan said.

“These things go through, a lot of these bills don’t end up the same way they are introduced,” Marshall said.

Gambling on the river would complicate relations and controversial issues between the two states, he said. “We’re going to get all the problems and they’re going to get all the money,” he said.

The resolution states that the Virginia General Assembly recognizes the potential for abuse and criminal activity that can be associated with gambling, so by law it is illegal unless Virginia makes exceptions like for its lottery, horse track race betting, and charitable games such as pull-tabs, bingo and raffles.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, offshore gambling was allowed off Leesylvannia Park on piers as long as football fields and boats with slot machines stopped in Alexandria before those practices were made illegal, said Marshall and Rollison.

Other lawmakers weren’t sure the resolution would do anything. Two Rules Committee members opposed it when it was sent to the full House.

“We seem to have opinions on things we don’t have votes on,” said Delegate Michele B. McQuigg, R-51st District.

Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller, D-36th District, said resolutions are also sent to Congress, like one this year supporting missile defense for the East Coast, but “I don’t know if they pay any attention to them … I think Bob would do better to try and go meet with the governor.”

In an unrelated Maryland/Virginia border issue:

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st District, has withdrawn his bill seeking cooperation between the two states to develop U.S. 301 as an “eastern bypass” around the D.C. Metropolitan area after he said it was stripped of the bypass language and Virginia officials said they were already in talks with Maryland.

The bill passed the House on a 53-45 vote.

Maryland owns the two-lane bridge that carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River. U.S. 301 is a four-lane road in all other areas.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials told Lingamfelter that Maryland doesn’t plan a second span for another 15 years.

Lingamfelter said the bill at least advanced the discussion and raised awareness about a road he believes could become a limited-access parkway for north-south traffic to detour off of Interstate 95.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (804) 649-8710.

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