In a setback for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, a panel failed to reach a concensus on June 20th on gambling expansion in Prince George’s, Annapolis and Anne Arundel, officials said.

The decision effectively halts any recommendation for a casino in Prince George’s this year. Concensus would have resulted in the convening of a special session of the state legislature to deal with the casino issue. Now the project will be shelved until the next legislative session in January 2013, officials said.
The lavish gambling resort proposed for the banks of the Potomac River earlier this month faces an uphill battle. MGM Resorts announced plans for a casino at National Harbor last week.

Several things have to happen before MGM could build a facility. According to the Peterson Companies, which operates National Harbor, table games would have to be approved along with lowering the tax burden on the current casinos around the state so that they could sustain the possible hit with a sixth site. The current tax rate for the state casinos is 67 percent. The Senate bill for this measure would lower that rate to 52 percent.

First, table games would have to be approved in the state. Then the limit on slot machines would have to be raised. And then the tax rate on current casinos would have to be lowered so operators could continue to operate in the face of reduced revenue, according to the Baltimore Sun. The current tax rate for the state casinos is 67 percent. The Senate bill for this measure would lower that rate to 52 percent.
Then, after the General Assembly agrees to changes in the state’s gambling program, the legislation will have to win voter approval. State law currently permits five casinos that feature only slot machines.

Principals behind the plan are optimistic, though. Jon Peterson, senior vice president of the Peterson Companies which operates National Harbor, is confident that the state will be more receptive to the idea that a big-time player is involved.
“There’s a process that we understand that we have to go through,” Peterson told the AFRO. “By having , it can only help facilitate things. They bring reality to the situation.”

MGM’s gambling holdings include MGM Grand, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and Mirage in Las Vegas. Like those Vegas casinos; one at National Harbor would include hotel rooms, restaurants and other entertainment options.

“The opportunity to build a destination casino resort in the National Harbor complex was extremely compelling,” said James J. Murren, chairman and CEO, MGM Resorts International, in a statement. “We believe this ideal location will not only attract residents from Virginia and D.C., but will also serve as a new amenity for the more than 40 million domestic and international visitors who travel to the Nation’s Capital each year.”

Despite Murren’s enthusiasm, this remains a controversial issue as many members are still not receptive to any more casinos. To overcome that skepticism, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), along with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, (D) and House Speaker Michael Busch (D), have formed the Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion to see whether or not the state can support a sixth casino site.

“We look forward to hearing more about the thousands of jobs that could be created with this project, and we remain hopeful that the work group studying gambling expansion in the State will reach a consensus that can be put in front of members in the House and Senate,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Takirra Winfield.
Meanwhile, former Maryland Del. Gerron Levi is heading a group called Stop Slots. She is not only opposed to a facility in Prince George’s County, but she’s also opposed to how this proposal is being handled.

“It is inconceivable to me that after raising income and other taxes and fees on hardworking Marylanders who are experiencing the worst economic pinch in recent history, state lawmakers are going back to Annapolis to deliver 15% tax cut, at least, to casino millionaires,” Levi said. “After raising taxes on us to fund education, lawmakers now want to give away the taxes collected for Maryland’s Education Trust Fund to the casino fat cats.”

Officials from MGM and the Peterson Companies met with O’Malley, Busch and Miller last week. A special General Assembly session is expected early next month to vote on the measure.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO