Lucky 7 or snake eyes? Gambling expansion wins in Maryland

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.”

Riverdale Park resident Adrianne Lefkowitz said all the money spent to make voters aware of Question 7 is “kind of a shame,” since there are so many more important issues in the state and on the ballot. The congressional redistricting map, in-state college tuition rates for some illegal immigrants and legalization of same-sex marriage are all vital issues, she said, but didn’t receive the same spotlight as casino gambling.

Gambling entities such as Caesars — which will be building the Baltimore casino — and MGM — which has already announced its intention to bid for the potential National Harbor casino — have pledged millions to the fight to expand gambling in the state.

Donating millions to the fight against the ballot issue is Penn National Inc. — which runs Maryland’s Perryville casino as well as the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., about a 90-minute drive from the District. Analysts have said that a full-service casino with both slots and table games in Prince George’s County could have a significant impact on the West Virginia casino’s traffic and revenues.

Meanwhile, the fight over gambling drew many high-profile backers and detractors. The issue was initially pushed through the General Assembly by state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, who has not played a significant role in the campaign since the issue made it to the ballot. Mr. Baker, Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, all Democrats, have backed the expansion since the beginning.Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who started the year with an agnostic view on gambling expansion, ended the summer by calling the August special session to put the issue on the ballot. He has appeared in a commercial promising that gambling expansion will raise money for schools. And in an unconventional sort of endorsement, the Washington Redskins — who play at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County — have also thrown their support behind the issue.

Leading the opposition to the issue has been state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, a Democrat. Along with Mr. Franchot, state Delegate Heather Mizeur, Montgomery Democrat; state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George’s Democrat; and high-ranking Republicans in state government have opposed it.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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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