In the Face of a Potpourri of Challenges, Baker Upbeat

Barrington M. Salmon | 3/8/2012, 1:59 p.m.

"It would have to have other amenities such as shows, restaurants and retail so it becomes part of an entertainment offering, and gaming is a lesser part of it. That's important to me," Baker explained.

Baker commissioned a study which pointed to National Harbor and not the Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington as a more suitable location for the casino. He said proceeds from the casino would provide about $50 million a year in tax revenue and as many as 5,000 jobs.

With the tough choices facing county residents, he said, the casino is one of the few available options for generating much-needed revenue to the county. However, Baker concedes that there are significant infrastructure and repair issues which would need to be addressed and which would require vast amounts of money to fix. That includes work on Route 210 and widening Oxon Hill Road, a two-lane roadway that links National Harbor to southern Prince George's County.

Miller and others want to bring slot machines to Rosecroft and thus resurrect a place that has fallen on hard times in recent years. Baker said he is not averse to helping Rosecroft but that it is less of a priority.

"I wouldn't support both facilities. The Legislature decides where and the shape it will take, and the gaming commission will decide on the form," he said. "You can't build the type of facility needed where Rosecroft is. The problem is infrastructure and major repairs which would require a major investment by the state."

"This is driven by the state's desire to close a billion-dollar revenue shortfall. I'll always entertain discussions to increase revenue," said Baker. "I'm in favor of it [a casino] under these circumstances."

Baker promises to demand minority participation in the form of local businesses and local hires on the casino project and since state officials are eager to bring this project to fruition, Baker hopes to leverage this to residents' benefit.

"We're in a greater position to bargain on this because state [officials] need this," he said.

Baker has a wish list that would determine where the casino revenues would be spent. He estimates that the casino would produce $29 million in non-gaming revenue and he would divide that with 20 percent going to non-profits, and 40 percent each going to housing stabilization and economic development. An additional $20 million in gaming revenue would be put in the "lockbox," to be used for education and public safety.

But there is still a long way to go before Baker gets his wish because the Legislature and voters must pass referendums and then he will have to spar with the County Council to determine exactly where the money will go.

Baker touted his Economic Development Incentive Fund which is a $50 million reserve that he anticipates will be a vital catalyst to spur economic development, business growth and jobs by providing loans and grants to private-sector and public businesses.

Baker sees several undeveloped areas in the county around Metro stations as perfect places to bring what he calls high-end development.