- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Maryland casinos could soon start 24-hour operations and table games could pop up by January, which analysts say could bring the state millions of dollars in revenue long before a sixth casino opens.

Maryland voters gave final approval Tuesday to a statewide gambling expansion, which was crafted this summer and was the focal point of the most expensive campaign in state history.

The law allows all authorized Maryland slots casinos to have table games. It also establishes a sixth casino in Prince George’s County, which cannot open until July 2016.

State officials said Wednesday that once the referendum’s results are certified Dec. 11, existing casinos in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties can seek county permission to extend their hours.

A newly appointed state commission is expected to lay out guidelines for casinos to establish games such as poker and blackjack early next year, and will field requests to bring them to facilities.

State budget analysts expect the gambling expansion to pay almost immediate dividends, with table games and longer casino hours projected to bring an additional $52 million in total revenue by July.

Of that money, $17.9 million would go to the state’s Education Trust Fund, $34.5 million would go to operators and $851,000 would be directed to host counties.

Casinos currently are allowed to operate from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. on weekends.

Budget analysts predict gambling revenue will skyrocket in coming years. A casino at state-owned Rocky Gap resort in Allegany County is expected to open next year. A fifth casino in Baltimore is expected to open in 2014, and the Prince George’s casino is expected in 2016. Revenues are expected to reach more than $700 million by 2017.

Although total revenue is anticipated to increase, the gambling expansion approved by voters will reduce the percentage of revenue coming to the state and pay out a larger percentage of funds to casino operators.

Operatorscurrently give the state 67 percent of their slots revenues. Now, the state’s take will be lowered to as little as 50 percent once a license is granted for a Prince George’s site.

A fifth of table game revenue will come to the state, all of it going to the Education Trust Fund.

Don Fry, who heads the state commission in charge of selecting casino operators, said that despite early interest in the Prince George’s casino, the license will not be awarded until January 2014 at the earliest — and likely will be later.

Mr. Fry’s commission will meet this year to outline the process for selecting an operator. He said a formal request for proposals could be made as soon as January.

The review process then would take a minimum of one year before choosing a developer.

“At some point in the near future, we’ll meet and talk about what needs to be done,” Mr. Fry said. “We still haven’t determined the process.”

MGM Resorts International has expressed the most interest in building the casino, and it spent more than $30 million on the campaign to get the referendum passed. The company could be one of several bidders and hopes to build a facility at National Harbor in Oxon Hill.

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