Lucky 7 or snake eyes? Gambling expansion wins in Maryland

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Table games and a sixth casino are coming to Maryland.

With most precincts reporting, nearly 52 percent of statewide voters cast ballots to allow all of the state’s existing slots casinos — in Perryville, Ocean City and Anne Arundel County, plus the ones in the works in Baltimore and at state-owned Rocky Gap resort — to add table games. It will also authorize a sixth casino, in Prince George’s County, which will feature both slot machines and table games.

Throughout Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, the issue remained too close to call. While votes were still being counted and the results still officially up in the air, a crowd of gambling proponents gathered at National Harbor — the preferred location for the sixth casino — celebrated what they felt was an imminent victory.

“Prince George’s County made me proud tonight,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III. He talked about how passage of Question 7 — the gambling issue’s position on the statewide ballot — will create several jobs, raise more money for education and bring more prosperity to the county.

According to The Daily Record, Penn National, the gambling conglomerate that was on the forefront of the opposition to the issue, conceded the race early Wednesday morning.

The question has sat heavily on Maryland’s state agenda since the beginning of the year, when a failure to agree on gambling expansion derailed the regular General Assembly session, causing it to adjourn before passing a budget. Assembly members passed the bill that created Tuesday’s referendum in a special session in August — on the last days possible to get it on the ballot.

Legislative analysts estimate that the bill will generate an extra $52 million for casino operators and the government in its first year.

Proponents added that a new casino and expanding gambling would create thousands of new jobs, attract tourists and bring more revenues for education. Opponents have responded that gambling would not necessarily increase money coming into schools, that it will exact high social costs and return too much money to the pockets of developers and casino operators.

As polls leading up to the election showed, voters on Tuesday had mixed opinions on the issue.
Hector Gelabert Jr. of Hyattsville said that he supported Question 7 because of the jobs it would create and the increased money for education.

“The main issue is the jobs, because I myself am in need of a full-time job,” he said.
Brian Pedroza, a college student at the Hyattsville polls, voted no.

“Most of the people who are supporting it are businessmen who profit the most from it, and they have the most to lose if it does not pass,” he said.

More than $90 million has been spent on campaigns on the issue, with most of that money coming from casinos and the development company behind National Harbor, the favored location for the potential Prince George’s County casino.

Voters throughout the D.C. area have found themselves pummeled with advertisements for and against Question 7. The advertising has been so prolific that Riverdale Park voter Efren Flores’ young daughter, who played on the sidewalk after her dad voted, identified Question 7 as the gambling ballot issue before her father could.
“I guess she has seen a lot of ads,” he said.

Barbara Anonsen, a Hyattsville voter, agreed.

“The mute buttons on my remote got a good workout, because I was so sick of this. And the telephone calls. I ignored them,” she said. “I just feel sorry for the people who lose their money there.”

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About the Author

Megan Poinski

Megan Poinski is the former deputy metro editor at The Washington Times. She has worked as a reporter, editor and web designer for more than a decade, covering mostly local, state and federal government in Ohio, Maryland and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Throughout her career, she has received reporting awards from the Scripps Howard Foundation, Capitolbeat, and Associated Press Managing ...

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