Baker's Billion Dollar Casino Idea Draws Early Opposition

Special to Informer | 3/22/2012, 2:50 p.m.

Last year it was his $50 million Economic Development Incentive fund. This year it is a $1 billion National Harbor casino plan, promising, among other benefits for the county and region, 5,000 permanent jobs.

The coming of Rushern Baker as Prince George's County Executive has meant nothing if not big ideas in his one year plus in office. The proof in the pudding of his tenure will be how many of the big ideas pass muster with legislators, and residents and deliver on businesses, jobs and dollars for an improved commercial tax base.

Opposition has already formed to the National Harbor casino plan, from officials with a casino under construction in Anne Arundel county, to Penn National Gaming executives who have already proposed gaming as a way to rejuvenate Rosecroft Raceway, and to some Prince George's County legislators and businessmen who have been critical of the idea.

Maximizing the "economic impact"

Baker's casino plan, titled, "A Billion Dollar Idea: County Executive Baker's Plan for a Destination Entertainment Resort at National Harbor," in a recent town hall presentation, has been presented in amendments to Maryland State Senate bill 892. The bill has been introduced by state Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D--Dist. 23) to make it possible for an additional state video lottery operation license at a Prince George's County location.

The plan calls for a facility at National Harbor that "would be a high-end destination gaming resort facility that would also include lodging, shopping, entertainment facilities, and dining; would maximize the economic impact for the County and for the state while minimizing the impact on residents of the County; and should be at minimum a billion dollar capital investment."

A study commissioned by Baker to analyze a facility at National Harbor says that direct economic impact of the plan would be about $45 million, counting gaming tax revenue, property taxes, hotel taxes and admissions and amusement taxes. It also said the facility "will lead to the creation of over 5,000 permanent jobs ..." and "1,300 jobs" during the construction of the facility."

A spokesperson for Baker said, "We'll be pushing for these amendments because we are not in favor just of having gaming, we want it to be right for Prince George's County."

On why National Harbor and not Rosecroft, Baker, interviewed recently at the Washington Informer offices, said, "I have nothing against the people at Rosecroft ... clearly I know something has to be done at Rosecroft. But ... what they are proposing is a slots bar. That means you are doing slots and that is the most addictive part. And you can't build the type of facility there that will have people coming from elsewhere, spending the type of dollars that you would at National Harbor.

"And Rosecroft ... is right around housing, so in order for us to do the infrastructure repairs that we would need at Rosecroft would need a major investment by the county, unlike [at] National Harbor."

In a joint statement on Baker's plan, the Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., and Gaylord Entertainment of Nashville, Tenn., the National Harbor developers, said, " ... We fully and enthusiastically embrace his proposal and are committed to facilitating such a development ... [we] will only support a project that is competitive with the very best resorts worldwide ... To attain world-class quality, the resort will require a competitive tax structure that can support a minimum capital investment of one billion dollars."