- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2012

Supporters of a possible casino in Prince George’s County are holding out hope to get the issue through the General Assembly and onto this November’s ballot, but one county developer says he is unfairly being shut out of the process.

Legislation to expand gambling likely would require that the casino be built within a four-mile radius in Oxon Hill, all but ensuring that the facility would be built at either Rosecroft Raceway - a 63-year-old harness-racing track - or National Harbor, a 4-year-old resort complex and the favorite among state and county power players.

A third party also has shown interest in a casino - Charles Hopkins of RMD Holdings, who wants to build a facility 13 miles northeast of Oxon Hill in Largo. He says officials are ignoring his bid.

“There are strong political interests that would like to see those locations greenlighted, and that does not necessarily align itself with what is best for the state, in my opinion,” Mr. Hopkins said. “I think competition is best for the state.”

Mr. Hopkins wants to build a complex with 4,750 slot machines and 117 table games at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, a shopping center built in 2003 on the site of the demolished Capital Centre arena.

He characterizes the complex as an up-and-coming site and says its proximity to Interstate 495 and the Metro make it an ideal location.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, a Democrat, has led the charge for gambling in the county and was a key supporter this year of an unsuccessful casino bill.

The bill passed the Senate with urging from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. but died in the House on the session’s final day.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, is anxious to revisit the issue during a special session this year, but House leaders and Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley have serious concerns that it could hurt the state’s current slots enterprise.

The casino’s site ultimately would be decided by a state commission, but supporters have largely advocated for National Harbor, arguing that it has built-in amenities and already enjoys heavy tourist traffic. They have argued that a Largo casino would be too far from Virginia and the District and would take a larger share of in-state business from other casinos while producing little new revenue.

“Our preference remains with a facility that is both high-end and has the capacity to attract a number of both out-of-state residents and residents that don’t live in the county,” said Brad Frome, deputy chief of staff for Mr. Baker. “A site at National Harbor is much better equipped to meet those expectations.”

Nonetheless, opponents argue that officials such as Mr. Baker have tainted the process by publicly advocating for a specific site rather than letting the process take its course.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse has accused leaders of rushing the legislation to favor the thriving National Harbor over areas that need revitalization.

“The richest and wealthiest empire in Prince George’s County is now in the lead for this,” said Mr. Muse, Prince George’s Democrat, in February. “It wasn’t done fairly, it’s not done rightly, and if it has to wait a year or two, we’ve survived this long without it.”

Opponents say bidding should be open throughout the county and not just in Oxon Hill, but similar location restrictions were placed on all five slots casino sites that the state approved in 2008.

Legislation that year required that casinos in Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties all be built within a certain distance from certain major highways, while the Allegany County site was required to be built at Rocky Gap State Park.

Officials say the restrictions are designed not to favor certain developers but to ensure that a facility is built where it will have the most positive effect.

National Harbor is the far better place for it,” said Delegate Barbara A. Frush, Prince George’s Democrat. “I really believe that we ought to choose the location that we think is most viable and can draw the most amount of revenue.”

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