Lawmakers Put Rosecroft on Track for Voters' Referendum

Special to Informer | 2/20/2012, 4:48 p.m.

Prince George's County Residents to be Part of Discussion

A high-ranking senator from Prince George's County recently sponsored legislation that would allow a casino that features slot machines and Las Vegas-style table games in the county, if state and local voters approve.

Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D) convened the Senate Budget Committee in the Maryland General Assembly last week to help overhaul provisions on gambling in the state. Peters' legislation is on track toward a November 2012 referendum that would give residents the opportunity to decide whether gaming would be allowed in the county.

Peters who represents District 23 said he supports the measure to give county voters a chance to decide whether to embrace a new casino as a revenue source.

Prince George's County is the latest in a string of communities across the country to give a second look at gambling in their locales. County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who inherited a $77 million budget deficit from his predecessor, Jack Johnson, said the county's officials and citizens should "have an open mind" on gambling.

Officials at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington are anxious to provide Baker with millions in proceeds from upgraded gambling activities. Once, one of the largest employers in the area, Rosecroft has struggled in recent years. The track emerged out of bankruptcy in February 2011 when Penn National Gaming bought the facility and reopened it for simulcasting, currently the track's primary business.

Senate President Thomas V. (Mike) Miller, also a Prince George's Country resident, is on record to "move forward expeditiously" to consider allowing table games and adding slots at Rosecroft Raceway. Miller said Prince George's County should "make use of the asset it has in Rosecroft."

He pointed out "two out of three of the county's residents are black and they live in the wealthiest majority black county in the nation, but struggling with the highest foreclosure rate in Maryland, particularly in the neighborhoods around Rosecroft Raceway," Miller said. "Rosecroft is the best site on the East Coast for video lottery machines" and that "Rosecroft is within easy reach of gamblers from Virginia and Washington, D.C."

Under law, a statewide vote is required to authorize a new slots location. Peters' bill includes a provision that would also require a majority vote from the host county. Recent polls show a majority of voters statewide favor a Prince George's casino, as do most county residents.

In a recent Washington Post poll 57 percent of the county's residents said they would support a slots casino at Rosecroft.

Hillcrest Heights resident Johnnie Smith said he supports slots in the county.

"I think it's overdue," he said.

Likewise, Gregory Simpkins of Tantallion Estates in Fort Washington said he sees the economic advantages legalized gambling will bring.

"Slots and table games will keep more money in our county."

Peters' bill is co-sponsored by five other influential Maryland senators. Passage by a majority of Maryland voters would be required in order to bring slots and table games to Rosecroft.

Economic development is the message and theme Penn National Gaming's Karen Bailey is trying to spread throughout the state and county. According to Penn National more than 6,000 jobs, $2.3 billion in economic impact and almost $300 million in total wages would be in the revenue stream if slot machines come to Rosecroft. Bailey said "operating slots could mean more than 2,000 permanent jobs at Rosecroft." A Penn National commissioned economic study estimates 4,000 jobs during construction of the slots parlor.

Since Penn National bought Rosecroft, Bailey said she has been "crisscrossing the state, meeting with groups" about her company's vision and commitment to responsible gaming, local and minority business opportunities, jobs and involvement within their host communities.

Bailey is scheduled to meet with officials of the town of Forest Heights this week and Mayor Jacqueline Goodall said that she and other officials are eager to learn about the plans for the raceway.

"We want to be fully engaged and knowledgeable about plans Penn National has for Rosecroft."