- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Prince George’s County officials are urging state lawmakers to act quickly in passing a bill that could pave the way for a $1 billion casino in the county, but some legislators have lingering doubts about the proposal.

Lawmakers have just three weeks remaining in this year’s General Assembly session to consider a constitutional amendment that would allow Prince George’s to be the site for the state’s sixth casino and legalize table games at all six sites in addition to currently legal slots machines.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III told the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday that his county would be an ideal location for a casino and that potential revenue could solve a lot of fiscal problems, both in the county and the state.

“It’s very important that we have the ability to have revenues,” said Mr. Baker, a Democrat. “I’ve got to go back up to Wall Street and pitch for our triple-A bond rating, and without telling Wall Street where another source of revenue is coming, it’s going to be a very interesting conversation.”

The state first legalized slots through a 2008 referendum. Revenue has been less than expected as the state has thus far opened just two of five planned slots parlors and has struggled to find developers for sites in Allegany County and Baltimore.

Prince George’s officials opposed slots in their county in 2008, but now say gambling could bring them more than $40 million a year in local revenue.

They also see table games as a way to revive the struggling slots parlors and compete with neighboring states.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Barbara A. Frush, Prince George’s Democrat, would call for a statewide referendum this November to decide whether to add a sixth casino and legalize table games.

Supporters are urging the General Assembly to pass the bill this year, considering that their next shot at a referendum wouldn’t be until 2014.

However, some lawmakers are skeptical of the proposal and argue the state should wait for the current five locations to prove themselves as viable before adding a sixth site.

Others have balked at the county’s proposal to reduce the portion of gambling revenue that would go to education and increase the portion that would go to a developer.

“There are some other components of the bill which I think are deeply troubling,” said Delegate Eric G. Luedtke, Montgomery Democrat. “Why decrease that [education] commitment so soon after the voters authorized slots for this purpose?”

If Prince George’s gets a casino, a state commission would eventually decide where to put the facility after considering bids from developers.

However, Mr. Baker has made clear that he wants it built at National Harbor — a sprawling waterfront development just south of the District.

If the county receives a gambling license, a competing bid will likely emerge to place the casino at the 63-year-old Rosecroft Raceway harness-racing track in Oxon Hill.

Mr. Baker and National Harbor’s owners have argued their complex already has the road infrastructure, visitors and entertainment and retail venues to make a potential $1 billion casino an attractive, high-end destination.

They also haven’t been shy in touting the notion that a casino there would attract most of its visitors from the District, Virginia and points beyond — allowing the county and state to rake in millions in revenue without having it come exclusively from the pockets of Marylanders.

Supporters of the proposal must still convince lawmakers that the casino won’t draw business from the state’s other sites, particularly a planned slots casino in Baltimore.

Caesars Entertainment is leading a bid to build the Baltimore facility but some city officials have worried a National Harbor casino could draw the developer to Prince George’s instead.

Caesars executives testified Friday they are fully committed to the Baltimore project.

“It’s a big bill and there’s only a little bit of time left,” said Delegate Justin D. Ross, Prince George’s Democrat. “But I’ve seen bigger things pass in even less time.”

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