- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — With a developer in place for a proposed Prince George’s County casino and a new study supporting the viability of expanded gambling in Maryland, there appears to be a growing consensus as to how lawmakers will seek to legalize table games and add a sixth casino in the state.

A state work group is scheduled to meet for the final time Wednesday and decide whether to recommend legislation for a July special session that could pave the way for a November referendum on whether to add table games and a new casino in Maryland.

The 11-member panel is widely expected to call for expanded gambling and its recommendation could closely resemble a bill that passed the Senate during this year’s regular session but died in the House.

State leaders met last week with representatives from MGM Resorts International, which formally announced Friday that it was interested in developing an $800 million casino at National Harbor, and say the pieces are beginning to fall into place.

“One can understand why they believe that site at National Harbor is so desirable” said Gov. Martin O’Malley. “That market and the possibility of attracting people to [a] resort destination that are visiting Washington makes it a very exciting proposal.”

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, is intent on calling a special session to resolve the gambling issue, which will likely come down to whether the House is ready to lend its support.

Some lawmakers, along with developers of the Maryland Live casino in Anne Arundel County, oppose a sixth casino on grounds that it could oversaturate the gambling market and hurt revenues at other sites - particularly the one in Anne Arundel.

Casino supporters are attempting to convince them otherwise, and received a boost last week from Pricewaterhouse- Coopers.

The firm conducted a study with state officials which found that table games and a new casino will bring additional money to all of the state’s casino owners, even if the state continues taking 67 percent of slots revenues.

The tax rate is among the highest in the country and was described as “egregiously high” by MGM Chairman and CEO James J. Murren.

Lawmakers plan to lower the rate for all of the state’s casinos. Mr. Murren said he would be happy with a proposed 52 percent tax that was part of this year’s earlier Senate proposal and is being discussed by work group members as the likely rate this summer.

Lawmakers are also discussing a 10 percent tax on table games with the rest of revenues going to operators. The same setup was part of last session’s bill.

“We like doing this and we’re good at doing this,” Mr. Murren said. “We like being part of the community and if we’re wanted, we’re all in.”

A state commission would eventually have to vet and select a developer for a Prince George’s casino, but an MGM facility at National Harbor is the clear front-runner.

Mr. Murren said a casino there would include a hotel and take about two years to build after a one-year design phase.

“We’re just going to keep pushing the process and encouraging the best results to come,” said Jon Peterson, senior vice president of The Peterson Cos., which developed National Harbor. “I think what we’ve said and gone and got the best in the world to make National Harbor a better place.”

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