National Harbor Casino Hearing Draws Support, Criticism

Supporters Clash with Opponents over Casino Location

Joshua Garner | 10/30/2013, 3 p.m.
The race to award a casino license for a proposed gaming location in Prince George’s County reached its climax last ...
A rendering of the proposed MGM National Harbor Resort and Casino (Courtesy MGM National Harbor)

The race to award a casino license for a proposed gaming location in Prince George’s County reached its climax last week during a heated public hearing over a proposed location at National Harbor.

Three bidders are vying for a casino license in the Oxon Hill and Fort Washington communities. MGM Resorts International is proposing a $950 million resort and casino at National Harbor. Penn National Gaming, owner of Rosecroft Raceway, is proposing the $700 million Hollywood Casino Resort. Bensalem, Pa.-based Greenwood Racing Inc., has proposed the $800 million Parx Casino Hotel & Spa in Fort Washington at the intersection of Route 210 and Old Fort Road.

“We want to be in Maryland. We love being in Maryland,” said Bill Hornbuckle, president and chief marketing officer of MGM Resorts during the presentation.

The Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission last week heard testimony from the bidders for the location of the casino during public hearings at Friendly High School in Fort Washington. The hearing brought to a close a week of discussion on the proposals. The 7-member commission will award a license by the close of the year.

During the final hearing on Friday, Oct. 25, more than 100 people packed into the auditorium at Friendly High School to see the final proposal for MGM National Harbor, which would sit along Oxon Hill Road just outside the Capital Beltway. The event attracted the largest crowd and proved to be the most contentious as supporters and opponents of the casino sparred over its location and impact on the community.

Officials from MGM billed the casino as a world-class resort that will be a destination point in the Washington, D.C. region and that it would fuel economic development and would bring jobs with livable wages to the county. The casino will sit inside an 18-story glass-walled tower that was inspired by Pierre Charles L'Enfant's design of the District. The casino will include 3,600 slot machines, 140 live gaming tables including poker, a 300-room hotel, restaurants, and retail and meeting space. MGM officials said the development would create 4,000 jobs, which would be staffed by local residents.

“It’s bold and imaginative – it’s exactly what Prince George’s County needs right now,” said David Prince of Fort Washington. “I support MGM’s bid to be at National Harbor.”

Carter Farrington, president of the Tantallon Citizens Association, said his community represents 10 percent of the population in Fort Washington, which would be impacted by the casino. He said his community supported the casino location but was concerned about how it would affect transportation along Route 210 and other roadways in southern Prince George’s County.

“I think transportation may be the key to quality of life [in the community],” he told the commission.

But some residents made final appeals to the commission to scrap plans for the proposed location and said they

had doubts that a National Harbor casino would benefit the community and could add to the nuisance brought about by National Harbor.

Joyce Thorpe, a Fort Washington residents and member of the Campaign to Reinvest in the Heart of Oxon Hill, said she fears noise and traffic, already exacerbated by National Harbor, would only worsen.

“National Horror or Nightmare Harbor as we call it is the worst neighbor we’ve ever had,” she said. “Does that mean that MGM will continue with the ignominious tradition of National Harbor and ignore the neighbors?”

Other residents said the casino would only degrade the Oxon Hill community and detract from historic sites that abut the proposed location.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the predatory nature of gambling,” said Bonnie Bick, an Oxon Hill resident whose home sits less than a mile from the proposed site. “[The historic sites] are being sacrificed … Maryland can do better.”

Prince George’s Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) urged the commission to make the choice that is best for the community, reminding them that each of the proposed sites sit in his community while taking into consideration the community’s infrastructure needs.

“I will need to work with the winner [of the license] and the loser,” he said. “I believe the area has unique traffic concerns.”