P.G. passes on banning slots, seeks referendum

The Prince George’s County Council decided Tuesday against voting on whether to ban slot machines in the county, instead passing a nonbinding resolution asking residents to decide through a referendum.

The nine-member council voted 5-4 to postpone further discussion about such a ban and to approve the resolution, which asks the state General Assembly to require that county voters decide the matter by a popular vote.

Maryland residents voted in a 2008 referendum to allow slots casinos at five sites in Baltimore and four counties. Prince George’s was not among the counties considered, but Penn National Gaming has pushed for slots at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington since acquiring the facility this year.

Slots supporters say the gaming machines could generate needed revenue for the county, but some Prince George’s officials have disagreed and sought to pass a zoning bill pre-emptively banning slots on grounds that they could attract crime, create traffic congestion and provide few benefits for the county.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, a Democrat, called the proposed ban “unnecessary,” pointing out that state law already prohibits slots in the county. He said he is undecided on whether to bring slots to Prince George’s but that it is too early to rule out the option.

“I want to see all the options on the table, the costs and benefits to any proposed expansion of gaming and whether it would be the right course of action,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

State voters approved limited slots licenses in 2008 with 59 percent of the vote.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, a Republican, first pushed to legalize slots during his term from 2003 to 2007 to compete with casinos in bordering Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Maryland has opened slots casinos in Cecil and Worcester counties and will open a third next year in Anne Arundel County, but it has yet to choose developers for planned casinos in Baltimore and at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Allegany County.

State officials hope to have developers in place by the end of the year.

Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil and Casino at Ocean Downs in Worcester opened in September 2010 and January 2011 respectively and so far have generated roughly $158.6 million in revenue, including $131.1 million this year and $12.9 million last month, according to state records.

The state is required by law to either own or lease the slot machines and retains 67 percent of all revenue generated by them. Roughly 50 percent of the state money goes to the Maryland Educational Trust Fund.

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