Voters to Have Final Say on Gambling Issue

Gale Gay Horton | 8/22/2012, 11:32 a.m.

Amid Supporters' Celebration, Opponents Vow to Fight

Now that the state legislature has approved expansion of gaming in Maryland, it's up to the voting public to have the final say.

On November 6, Election Day, Maryland voters will determine if live table games such as poker and roulette will be played in casinos statewide and if Prince George's County will be the site of the state's sixth casino. Turnout is expected to be heavy as voters nationwide chose which presidential candidate will occupy the White House for the next four years.

Maryland legislators decided to turn the gambling matter over to the public last week with approval in the House and Senate of changes to gaming that include allowing casinos to stay open around the clock, offer live table games and opening the door to a sixth casino site in Prince George's County.

The House 71-58 vote came late on August 14 during the second special session of 2012, with the 32-14 Senate vote following about 30 minutes later at 12:15 a.m. on August 15. Gov. Martin O'Malley wasted no time and signed the measure hours later.

However, the votes did not come without a tremendous amount of negotiation and concessions. Among the concessions, allowing the owners of the recently opened Maryland Live! Casino and a casino planned in Baltimore to keep more of their revenue.

"We've been able to come together, during this special session, to create a comprehensive solution to a number of outstanding issues facing Maryland's gaming industry," said O'Malley during the signing ceremony just hours after the bill passed. "All of us know very, very well how divisive this issue has been for us. But this bill incorporates suggestions from the General Assembly, and it's a fair compromise to put forth to Marylanders in a November referendum."

The governor cited thousands of new construction jobs, 2,300 additional permanent jobs and $200 million a year going to the State Education Trust Fund as the reasons for supporting gaming expansion at this time.

O'Malley also said that if voters approved a sixth casino site, the development will come about from a "competitive, transparent, and locally controlled bidding process - a process which will determine where, within the county, the new site will be located."

The governor's comment about the development process did not seem to dampen the enthusiasm of MGM Resorts International officials who have made numerous trips to Prince George's County and Annapolis, stating their interest in developing a casino at National Harbor.

"MGM Resorts wants to be a part of this community," according to a statement from the Las Vegas-based company. "We are fully prepared to compete for that opportunity. As we enter this referendum phase, we look forward to meeting more Marylanders to detail our company's vision for a destination resort at National Harbor."

The Peterson Companies, developer of National Harbor, and MGM Resorts International have reached an agreement on developing a destination resort casino at National Harbor if voters approve the addition of a sixth casino.