Prince George’s County Councilman Eric Olson introduced a bill to ban slots in the county, bringing back a hotly debated topic for the county and garnering remarkable support from many corners of the community.

“County Councilman Eric Olson has introduced CB-49 (2011), a bill that would ban video lottery terminals in Prince George’s,” said Carl Allen, vice president of Prince George’s Real Estate Professionals for Change (PGREP4C), in an email.  “I support it!”  

The bill would change zoning codes in the county, disallowing video lottery machines. It is one of the few times this issue has been tackled at the county level, but it’s been debated heavily at the state level.

Video gambling has been supported by country residents in the past, but this time the reality of it is hitting a little closer to home, which may explain why Olson’s bill, which made it out of committee last week, has become more attractive.

Prince George’s residents voted to legalize video gambling during the 2008 election although none of the spots were slated for Prince George’s County.

State Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Dist. 26 wants to bring slots to Rosecroft Raceway, which was recently reopened under new ownership. The new owners, Penn National Gaming, purchased the struggling track with the hope that putting casino gambling close to Washington, D.C. would turn it into a gold mine.

One of Muse’s former colleagues in the Prince George’s delegation in Annapolis, Gerron Levi, is leading a grassroots charge in support of Olson’s bill. Her “Stop Slots in Prince George’s County” campaign has provided what she says is compelling evidence to support the effort.

Levi cites the greater risk that young Hispanic and Black males have of developing a gambling problem, the area surrounding Rosecroft being designated as a foreclosure hotspot, the 2011 murder rate in the county and the fact that the county is a cash cow for state lottery sales, as reasons to support Olson’s bill.

Meanwhile, some county politicians remain are in a wait-and-see mode before taking a position. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who once voted against slots in Prince George’s County, has said he wants more information before making a determination.

“ willing to revisit this issue and really look at everything that’s on the table,” Scott Peterson, acting director of communications for Baker, told the AFRO earlier this year. “He wants to weigh the costs and the benefits.”

One group, however, says casino gambling has little benefit to the county. PGREP4C says the county should focus on other areas to achieve economic development. “With all due respect to every elected official in Prince George’s County, I do not want gambling to become our corporate or industry brand,” said Carl Allen, vice president of PGREP4C.  “Montgomery County is a center of biotechnology and home to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Fairfax County is a hub of high-technology and home to the Defense Department.

“We should be known as and the home of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and home of Beltsville Agricultural Research Center/USDA, international leader in food and agricultural research.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO