ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Gambling in Maryland will soon include table games like blackjack and a casino near the nation's capital, after voters on Tuesday approved an expansion measure that generated the most expensive political advertising campaign in the state's history.
In a year with a variety of high-profile ballot measures, Maryland voters also approved same-sex marriage, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions and the state's congressional redistricting map, which had been petitioned to the ballot by opponents.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, the gambling question had 52 percent of the votes. The measure received an enormous amount of attention, largely because more than $90 million was spent on television and radio advertising.
Table games like craps and poker could begin early next year at Maryland's three existing casinos and at two expected to be built later. Because the question also passed in Prince George's County, a casino can also be built near the nation's capital.
MGM Resorts International wants to build an $800 million casino near National Harbor. The Prince George's County casino can't open until 2016. The ballot question also reduces the tax rates paid by Maryland casinos to varying degrees, partly to make up for added competition from the added casino.
Gov. Martin O'Malley called a special session in August to consider the expansion. Lawmakers passed legislation that still needed voter approval.
Voters had a lot to say about the gambling question at the polls on Tuesday.
"Oh, my God, yes, they've got to bring them closer to me," said Carolyn Barton, a retired medical assistant who voted in Hagerstown, adding that she and her husband Charles have made numerous trips to Las Vegas and neighboring states to gamble.
But there were plenty of opponents, as well, who expressed concerns about social ills and didn't believe proceeds will go to benefit education in the state.
Saeed Roshan, an Iranian immigrant and registered Democrat, said he voted against the gambling question.
"In Iran, the gambler is called the loser," Roshan, of Rockville, said. "The gambling brings the prostitution, brings the thieves."
Maryland became the first state to approve a state's version of the Dream Act by popular vote. Illegal immigrants can pay in-state rates if they attend a Maryland high school for three years and if they or their parents can show they filed state income taxes during that time.
Supporters said helping more people get an education would only make the state stronger and more productive. Opponents said it wasn't fair to people who have worked hard to enter the country legally.
On a separate ballot question, Maryland voters approved the state's congressional redistricting map. It had been petitioned to the ballot by opponents who said it had been gerrymandered to favor Democrats.
Tony Campbell, who helped lead the effort against the map, said his coalition would push next year in the Maryland General Assembly for an independent redistricting process to replace the current method, in which the governor sends a bill to the legislature.
Voters also passed a constitutional amendment requiring elected officials to be suspended from office once convicted of certain crimes and removed automatically if they plead guilty or no contest. That tightens current law, which only removes someone from office at sentencing.
Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko in College Park, David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Brett Zongker in Wheaton and Eric Tucker in Parkville contributed to this story.
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