The controversial issue of gaming expansion in Maryland will be the focus of a special session of the Maryland Legislature. The session, announced by Gov. Martin O'Malley last Friday, is set to begin August 9.
This follows weeks of point and counterpoint ads on TV, religious and community leaders voicing their concern as well as plenty of behind-the-scene discussions and negotiations. It's all part of the still-up-in-air debate over expansion of gaming in Maryland.
At issue is whether a sixth casino site at National Harbor will be sanctioned, if live table games will be approved and whether changes will be made to the current tax structure that casinos pay to the state. Voters would have the final say on any gaming expansions, possibly as soon as November.
"The addition of a sixth site in Prince George's County, along with table games, will produce hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue and thousands of jobs for the state of Maryland," said Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III. "I look forward to seeing the governor's legislation and have confidence that the General Assembly will pass a bill empowering the citizens of the state to have the final say on this issue.''
Not everyone is pleased that gaming expansion is still up for debate.
David Cordish, chairman of The Cordish Companies, developer and owner of Maryland Live! Casino, a $500 million investment, has been vehemently opposed to the expansion of gaming. The casino opened June 6 and is the third largest casino in the country.
Robert Hannon, president and CEO of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., said approval of an additional gaming facility would have a negative economic impact on the Maryland Live! Casino and the surrounding businesses.
The special session announcement came one day after Maryland Live! Casino opened a new portion of the casino with 531 additional slot machines and electronic games. This brings the total number of slots at the facility to 3,731.
In early July, Maryland Live! reported paying more than $19 million in gaming taxes to the state for its first partial month of operation.
The taxes were based on the state's 67 percent portion of approximately $28.4 million in gaming revenue generated by the facility, according to casino officials.
"The results are right in line with projections," said Joe Weinberg, managing partner of The Cordish Companies. "Approximately 500,000 people visited the casino during its first 24 days of operation. Critically, they came from a very wide geographic area, with roughly half of our visitors coming from the District of Columbia, the Maryland counties surrounding D.C., and Virginia. It is clear that if we are going to continue to meet the state's expectations, we have to be able to continue to draw visitors from these areas."
National Harbor's developer the Peterson Companies and MGM Resorts International have agreed to develop a "world-class destination resort casino at National Harbor" contingent on a reduction in the casino tax rate and approval of a sixth casino license.
Douglas Edwards, pastor and founder of Mission of Love Outreach Ministries, Inc. in Capitol Heights, was one of a reported 20-30 individuals including religious and civic leaders who held a press conference outside of Prince George's County offices in Upper Marlboro on July 20.
Edwards said he's opposed to the possibility of a casino in Prince George's County because of its proximity to the poor.
"It's made too convenient for the poorest of the poor to get to the casino," said Edwards, adding the many people use the casino to "supplement their already small income and end up losing their entire paycheck."
"If you go to West Virginia or Delaware, you'll see automobiles like Lincolns and Cadillacs, and if you go inside you see seniors, people who can afford to be gambling."
"Too many families [are] being destroyed as a result of people thinking they can supplement their income."
Edwards said he wasn't opposing gaming on religious grounds. "I don't know if it's sinful or not."
"I am fully aware of the ills of gambling," said Edwards, 75, who admits to having had a gambling and alcohol addiction.
Asked how he overcame those addictions, he said, "I was delivered by God."