Casino Officials' Visit Explores the 'What Ifs'

Gale Horton Gay | 8/8/2012, 11:36 a.m.

A team of Las Vegas casino officials descended on Prince George's County last week in part to share what their corporate culture is about and to gather information about what makes the local community tick.

About seven officials from MGM Resorts International were in the county last Thursday through Saturday meeting with community leaders, county officials and business people to talk about the many "what ifs" of gaming expansion in Maryland, particularly in Prince George's County.

The visit included MGM Resorts International executives Jim Murren, chairman and chief executive officer; Kenyatta Lewis, executive director of supplier diversity; Phyllis A. James, executive vice president and chief diversity officer; as well as representatives from the company's facilities, construction and procurement departments.

"We are trying to get exposure to the local community," said James. "We want to find out more about the community. We want to know who the people are. What makes this community tick? What do people identify as community needs, expectations of employees?"

The visit was the latest of several by key MGM officials during the past few months and came just days before the start of the Maryland Legislature's second special session this summer. The session, scheduled to begin August 9, gives legislators the opportunity to address whether to approve gaming expansion and a change in the tax structure for casinos. Voters would have a final say on the matter as early as November.

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.

While in Maryland, the executives met with members of Prince George's Economic Development Corp., the Black Chamber of Commerce, Prince George's Community College, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland.

James said this is the process that MGM Resorts undertakes when entering a potential new market.

"When we are considering entering a new jurisdiction, we believe that we are not just setting up new opportunities to be a new employer, we see ourselves as becoming potential members of the community," said James.

"We want to try to learn what we can about the Prince George's County community and speak to various community leaders and other parts of the community. If we were fortunate enough to be able to establish a development, we would become a leading employer in the area," said James, who described MGM's vision of a National Harbor property as a "full-scale resort" in which games would "be by no means the only thing offered." Other amenities would include restaurants, a spa, high-end retail and entertainment.

MGM Resorts' other properties include 14 resorts/casinos in Las Vegas, several in Reno, Detroit and Biloxi, Miss., and others overseas.

"We pride ourselves very much on trying to provide a special customer experience," said James.

Asked what questions community members posed, James said many had to do with employment.

James said MGM Resorts projects their prospective National Harbor casino would generate 4,000 full-time jobs and a "multiplier effect" could lead to other businesses creating "as much as two times that number" of additional jobs. About 25 percent of those positions would be "professional/management," and the average salary at MGM Resorts is $50,000 to $55,000, James said.