- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Dec. 8 grand opening of the MGM National Harbor’s casino heralds new jobs and revenue in Prince George’s County amid concerns that it will merely siphon revenue from Maryland’s other gambling palaces rather than generate new tax dollars.

Maryland’s five other gambling houses raked in more than $97 million in state revenue in September, the 10th consecutive month the casinos have reaped gains over the previous year, according to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

But opponents of the MGM resort near the Potomac River say gambling isn’t the kind of economic engine they want and Maryland’s nascent casino market is already saturated.

“I would have liked to have seen the tech industry come in and create high-tech jobs,” said Tamara Davis Brown, a lawyer who lives in Clinton. “Casinos have not been favorable for the communities they’re in.”

Ms. Brown, who lost a tight race for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2014, said a casino can’t create the kinds of career-oriented jobs the county needs. Instead, most will be either construction jobs that vanish after the casino opens or service jobs such as dealers. She said high-tech jobs would have been more lucrative and presented residents with more opportunities.

According to MGM National Harbor, about 6,300 people have worked on the $1.4 billion resort and casino since the groundbreaking, and about 2,500 people are employed at the site each day. Once the casino opens, it will create 3,600 permanent jobs, at least half of which will be filled by local residents.

“MGM National Harbor is creating thousands of jobs: permanent jobs at our resort, construction jobs building our resort, and indirect jobs with local vendors, suppliers and nearby businesses created to meet the business generated by our resort,” said Dasha Ross Smith, a spokeswoman for MGM National Harbor.

“We’re confident we will quickly become one of the area’s most admired employers through our commitment to developing and growing talent, creating new career opportunities and, of course, through the competitive benefits we offer our employees,” she said.

Besides the casino, the MGM resort — which is set to receive guests starting Dec. 10 — will feature a 300-room boutique hotel, a 3,000-seat theater, a conference center, restaurants by celebrity chefs Jose Andres and brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, art galleries and a flower conservatory. Room rates will be $399 to $599 per night.

Casino operators keep 80 percent of the profits they generate from table games, and 20 percent goes to the state Education Trust Fund, according to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.

When the MGM casino opens, 15 percent of profits from table games will go to the education fund and 5 percent to local impact grants. Operators will still keep 80 percent.

Slots are taxed differently than table games for each casino. In MGM’s case, the casino gets to keep 38 percent of its earnings from slots with 62 percent going to the state. And 47 percent of that money going to the state will end up in the Education Trust Fund.

“Casinos have contributed more than $1 billion in profit to the Education Trust Fund, which supports pre-K through 12 public education, public school and higher-education construction and capital improvements including community colleges,” the gambling commission says on its website.

But as slot-machine casinos grow and add table games such as poker and craps, a smaller percentage of their profits are going to the education fund, from 48.5 percent in 2011 to 37.3 percent in 2015, according to the commission’s data.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has been an outspoken critic of gambling revenue. He called the state’s expansion of gambling operations an embarrassment.

“We just have to grow up in Maryland and put this obsession with slot machines back on the toy shelf where it belongs,” Mr. Franchot said before the General Assembly approved the expansion of gambling in 2012.

Some have pointed to Atlantic City as an example of oversaturation of casinos in a small market. Five of the New Jersey seaside resort town’s 12 major casinos have closed in the past two years. The Trump Taj Mahal, which closed this month, is the latest casualty. Meanwhile, New Jersey voters will be asked next month whether to expand gambling to other parts of the state.

MGM dismissed the Atlantic City comparison.

“The Washington, D.C., metro region is a completely different market than Atlantic City, New Jersey,” said Ms. Smith. “We will be the sixth casino to open within the state of Maryland, whereas there are twice as many casinos within a square mile in Atlantic City, New Jersey.”

With the casino opening Dec. 8, Ms. Brown said, she just hopes it will end up helping the county and that the company will keep its promises.

“Now that it’s here, I hope it will be the economic engine it claims to be. I hope, in terms of commercial tax dollars, that the promises that were made will be realized,” she said. “Job creation is job creation. If they’re meeting their commitments, that would be a good thing.”

It will take years to learn whether MGM National Harbor’s presence in the region affects the revenue of other Maryland casinos, but one problem facing Prince George’s County immediately will be additional traffic from MGM guests as well as thousands of workers.

According to a traffic impact study conducted by the county, an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 visitors are expected each day. With 3,600 employees at the resort, that means about 10,000 cars will travel to and from MGM National Harbor over a 24-hour period.

The county is planning to use digital message boards on the highway and some local roads to divert MGM traffic. County police will manage traffic on the ground level, and traffic signals will be adjusted as needed.

About 65 county police officers will monitor traffic intersections at any given time, and a police helicopter will hover over the area to alert police of traffic flow problems.

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