The Board of Public Works meeting in April 2008 had been very pro-forma: the Maryland governor, comptroller and treasurer had all met to go over various state matters, as they do twice each month. There was nothing in the relatively quick approval of wetland licenses, agricultural grants and open space land purchases to indicate that any animosity lay brimming under the surface.

But then Gov. Martin O’Malley did something unusual. Shortly after the meeting ended, he walked into a circle of reporters and offered an unsolicited statement a world apart from the often clipped, sunny pronouncements he routinely gave reporters after such meetings. O’Malley lit into State Comptroller Peter Franchot—whom he had only minutes before sat beside in order to move through the public works agenda—for having a “hypocritical stance” on a slot machine gambling referendum the governor had worked tirelessly to move through the legislature a few months before.

The broadside stood out for several reasons. Normally, O’Malley was careful not to elevate potential opponents by singling them out for a critique. And many believed O’Malley would take a low profile in the campaign to pass the November referendum, which legalized 15,000 slot machines in five locations across the state.

It was the opening salvo of what became a bruising political fight over the referendum—one that O’Malley and the pro-slots campaign would eventually win.