Penn National Gaming and MGM Resorts International are spending millions of dollars in the fight over a possible National Harbor Casino.

According to campaign finance reports seen by the {AFRO} on the Maryland Board of Elections web site, Penn National Gaming has contributed nearly $5.5 million to Get the Facts – Vote No On 7, a group running negative ads against a National Harbor casino. According to Penn National officials, the group is fighting because it feels the playing field is uneven in the competition over gambling.

“Our opposition comes from the fact that the deck is stacked against us and that a fair and competitive bid process will not be in place for the Prince George’s location,” said Penn National spokeswoman Karen Bailey. “Given that has thrown all his support behind National Harbor and the state’s study of revenues has only been for a location at National Harbor, we feel like the deck is stacked in favor of a National Harbor location.”

Penn National purchased the failing Rosecroft Raceway in early 2011. In purchasing the property, the group said it wanted to bring slots to the facility. Penn National had even begun to lobby the Maryland General Assembly to bring gaming to Rosecroft. However, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III stepped in and introduced his plan to attract a high-end resort casino at National Harbor.

Penn National officials has since criticized the process from which the referendum surfaced and says the concessions made by Maryland to casino owners will reduce the amount of tax dollars Marylanders would’ve seen had Rosecroft been a part of the process.

“Prior to the August legislative special session, we proposed an investment of $500 million at our Rosecroft facility at the current 67% tax rate,” Tim Wilmott, president and COO of Penn National; Bill Hayles, vice president and general manager of Hollywood Casino in Perryville; and Lisa Watts, director of operations at Rosecroft, said in a letter dated Aug. 30. “Over time this would have generated more revenue for the state than the combination of a 6th casino and the tax breaks that were given to current casinos.”

Meanwhile, groups in support of a National Harbor casino say that Penn National is being disingenuous in its opposition of a resort casino at National Harbor. Howard Libit, spokesman for a group supporting the casino, For Maryland Jobs & Schools, which has received a reported $2.4 million from MGM, says that Penn National is just trying to protect its casino in Charles Town, W.Va. and not Rosecroft.

“This is a West Virginia-funded effort to deceive Marylanders and deprive them of the thousands of jobs and millions for our schools that a new world-class resort casino would bring to the state,” said Libit in an Aug. 30 statement.

That assertion is refuted by Bailey who said, “Had our intention been to simply protect our Charles Town facility, we would have opposed gaming in Maryland from the start.”

Meanwhile, Libit and others who support the casino said that the facility could create 8,000 new direct and indirect jobs to the facility. They say it could provide much-needed funding for Maryland education.

“No matter how many millions of dollars are spent protecting a casino in West Virginia, Maryland voters understand that a vote for question seven is a vote to keep Maryland competitive and create thousands of jobs and hundreds millions of dollars for their schools,” said Kristen Hawn, spokeswoman for Vote for Seven for Maryland Jobs and Schools.

According to Bailey, if Maryland residents vote yes on the referendum and the National Harbor site is awarded the bid, then Rosecroft’s days are numbered. She says horse racing will just not be sustainable at the facility.

“We recently signed an agreement with our horseman’s organization to continue live racing at Rosecroft in the hope that we can bring gaming to the site,” she said. “If we are unsuccessful, then we have no other choice than to shutter our doors.” 


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO