Baker Wants Voters to Decide Gaming Issue
Developments around a possible casino in Prince George's County are taking place in rapid succession.
A few days after the Prince George's County top official made the case for an additional gaming site in Maryland – specifically at National Harbor – be put before voters, an agreement was reached about who would build it.
Last Friday, National Harbor's developer the Peterson Companies and MGM Resorts International announced that they have entered into an agreement for MGM Resorts to develop a "world-class destination resort casino at National Harbor." The agreement is contingent upon the Maryland Legislature passing legislation permitting a sixth casino license at National Harbor, a reduction in the casino tax rate and approval of a state-wide referendum by Maryland voters.
MGM Resorts is one of the leading hospitality companies, operating destination resorts around the world including such iconic Las Vegas resorts as Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage.
"The opportunity to build a destination casino resort in the National Harbor complex was extremely compelling," said James J. Murren, chairman and chief executive officer, MGM Resorts International. "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."
The prospective National Harbor resort casino is expected to include approximately 4,000 video lottery terminals and 250 table games along with retail, restaurant and entertainment options as well as a luxury hotel.
Murren was in Annapolis last week and met separately with Gov. Martin O'Malley and Senate President Mike Miller.
Earlier last week County Executive Rushern Baker III addressed the work group recently appointed by the governor that is examining the pros and cons of changes to the state's current gaming rules.
"I believe it is our collective responsibility to do what is right for the financial needs of the state of Maryland," Baker told the group. "I believe if you embrace that goal, the people of Prince George's will be well served. The bottom line is that the state will make more money and create more jobs if the voters are given the opportunity to approve this expansion of gaming."
An independent study presented to state lawmakers last week determined that Maryland could sustain a sixth gaming facility and that the addition of a site at National Harbor would result in an additional $246 million in gaming revenue, pouring more than $100 million in additional funds into education. The study was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and released by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
Baker told the 11-member work group that a high-end destination facility would generate much-needed revenue for the state and create thousands of jobs for the region.
"From a county perspective, there just isn't any other industry at this time that could generate that sort of income and job creation in the time frame we are talking about here," said Baker.
Baker told the group that although a casino in Prince George's County would impact the Maryland Live! Casino that just opened June 6 at Arundel Mills Mall, the delay created by a referendum, bidding and construction would allow the Anne Arundel County casino to better establish itself. He also said that if table games are approved, Maryland Live! would see a boost in revenue.
"I believe that the existing license holders, with the addition of table games and an alteration in the tax structure, would also see an increased return on their investment," he said.
Baker also said that a Prince George's casino would draw from a specific audience, different from that which Maryland Live! is targeting.
"The target consumer to the National Harbor site would be the 16 million tourists that visit the D.C. region every year and the 23 million business visitors to the capital region," said Baker, adding that the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center attracts 1.8 million conventioneers annually and the National Harbor complex draws 2.2 million overnight guests.
However, Anne Arundel County officials have expressed their opposition to changes in the law that would allow an additional casino to enter the market.
Robert Hannon, president and chief executive officer of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, testified before the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year that a change to the Maryland video lottery law would negatively impact 300-plus county businesses that have already "reset their business outlook based on the expectation of added entertainment visitor traffic."
Hannon said an additional casino would reduce Maryland Live! Casino's market by as much as 40 percent.
"All business investment seeks confidence and stability in making their commitments," said Hannon. "The Maryland Legislature provided the basis for a gaming industry in the state by enacting the legislation providing for five locations. A change, such as may be discussed in an upcoming Special Session, would drastically undercut the 'good faith' confidence made to the investors in the gaming industry."