No Dice Yet for Prince George's Gaming

Gale Horton Gay | 6/27/2012, 11:39 a.m.

Gaming Expansion Not a Dead Issue

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker isn't quite as hot as he was last week when a work group failed to agree on gaming expansion in Maryland.

A work group that was studying the possible expansion of gaming in the state announced last week that it failed to reach agreement on all the points it was considering and recommended to the governor that a special session of the Maryland Legislature not be called this summer to further discuss the issue.

While the 11-member work group agreed on several issues, the one sticking point was making way for Prince George's County to be the site for the state's sixth casino, according to one source.

"When the impasse happened last week with the gaming commission, County Executive Baker did feel misled on this specific issue by the Speaker [Michael Busch]," said Baker's spokesman Scott Peterson. "However, since the impasse of the gaming commission, the county executive has been pleased to see that both the governor and speaker have quickly and continually addressed whether a second session will occur."

Gov. Martin O'Malley did not rule out the possibility of calling a special session to consider gaming expansion and possibly put the decision on gaming changes before voters in the fall.

"The commission arrived at a consensus for moving forward to resolve issues around gambling in Maryland," O'Malley said. "For some reason, the House leadership at the last minute decided they did not want to share in that consensus. Finding common ground will be difficult if House leadership has become invested in the notion that the Anne Arundel site should enjoy a virtual monopoly for as long as possible."

"Over the next several days, I will continue to have conversations with Senate President Miller, House Speaker Busch, Chairman Morton, and County Executive Baker to resolve these lingering issues," the governor said.

Baker remains optimistic that a second session will be called, Peterson said.

The work group's announcement came just days after 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.

"County Executive Baker recognizes that the thrust of opposition to a special session on gaming and potential referendum by the voters on this issue is from the management of the Arundel Mills site," said Peterson.

Anne Arundel County officials and developers of the newly opened Maryland Live! Casino have expressed opposition to changes to the law to allow an additional casino. They say it would adversely affect the $500 million investment in the casino.

"I am very disappointed," said Baker immediately following the gaming commission's announcement last week. "Fortunately, there is still time for them to come to an agreement and not leave 4,000 jobs and over $200 million in additional revenue for the Maryland Education Trust Fund on the table. I firmly believe that this important issue must be decided by the people of Maryland and the work group should give them an opportunity to weigh in."

"This was about creating jobs and opportunity for our citizens [at] a time when good jobs are hard to find," said Baker, adding that he's encouraging the governor, senate president and the speaker to "step in and ask the work group to hammer out an agreement. The people of Maryland deserve a voice in this," Baker said, adding that the work group's failure to reach consensus appears to have put Marylanders "chance to be included in jeopardy."

A group named Building Trades for National Harbor has started airing television commercials that focus on benefits to education and creation of new jobs based on having a casino at National Harbor. It urges viewers to contact lawmakers about giving Marylanders the right to vote on gaming expansion.