Prince George’s officials and business leaders envision a high-rolling success with a casino at National Harbor, but a competitor is crying foul, saying the facility would unfairly compete with the $500 million slots facility it plans to open in Hanover this summer.
“We oppose any expansion of gaming sites in Maryland regardless of the location,” Joe Weinberg, managing partner of the Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, wrote in an email.
The developer’s Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills is set to open in June and will be the state’s third slots parlor.
“Between Arundel Mills and Baltimore City, 8,500 new slots will be coming online in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, which is more than sufficient capacity to service the market,” Weinberg said.
He said the constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2008 that authorized slots already balances the “maximization of revenues to the state with establishing trade areas that would allow each facility to be successful without severe cannibalization.”
But leading Prince George’s officials are of another mind following last week’s announcement by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) calling for a billion-dollar gambling facility and hotel at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, which would include both slots and table games.
“Of all the proposals we’ve seen, this one certainly makes the most sense,” said M.H. Jim Estepp, CEO and president of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable. “You’re talking about a serious venture that attracts folks from not just across the region but across the country.”
The announcement comes after Penn National Gaming, owner of Rosecroft Raceway in nearby Fort Washington, has spent months drumming up support of a slots license in Prince George’s County — for its racetrack.
The Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., owner of the $4 billion mixed-use National Harbor, and Gaylord Entertainment of Nashville, Tenn., owner of the 2,000-room Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center there, say they will support the casino project, provided it is on par with National Harbor’s standards, according to a joint statement from the companies.
The casino would be built on an empty parcel north of National Harbor and wedged just outside the Capital Beltway, near the Wilson Bridge, which links Maryland and Virginia across the Potomac River.
“For the past decade, National Harbor and Gaylord Entertainment have consistently deferred to the leadership of the county on important issues of public policy such as gaming,” the companies’ statement reads. “County Executive Baker has now unveiled a bold vision of an international-class destination casino/hotel resort that would attract visitors from all over the country and the world. We fully and enthusiastically embrace his proposal and are committed to facilitating such a development.”
The project would require a “competitive tax structure” that can support a minimum capital investment of $1 billion, the companies said, while declining further comment.
Baker has projected the casino would create 5,000 permanent jobs and 1,300 construction jobs.
The project depends on lawmakers’ approval of a statewide voter referendum to allow another slots license in Maryland, plus voter approval of table games at all slots locations.
J. Matthew Neitzey, executive director of the Prince George’s County Conference and Visitors Bureau, emphasized that a casino at National Harbor would attract more upscale visitors and more overnight tourism than the other slots locations.
“The tourism business is all about extending the stay. Folks coming there aren’t coming on a bus and have to leave,” he said. “It adds more of a product to the destination.”
Neitzey said in the fast-changing gambling market, it is important for venues to differentiate themselves to compete.
Prince George’s officials envision a casino comparable to high-end gambling spots such as the Bellagio in Las Vegas, said Bradley Frome, the county’s deputy chief of staff. Besides a 1,000-room hotel, the plan includes restaurants and entertainment venues.
The project’s $1 billion estimate reflects the proposed casino’s quality of construction and a range of amenities comparable to those offered by Gaylord, Frome said. Peterson and Gaylord said they would support building a casino, but did not say they would develop it.
He added a study the county conducted on the economics of bringing a casino to National Harbor estimated at least 75 percent of revenues would come from out of state.
“If you look at the Eastern Seaboard for the best place for a facility like this, National Harbor would be up there,” Frome said.
Frome said the casino could generate as much as $50 million in new tax revenue for the county, especially if guests avail themselves of National Harbor’s other tourism venues.
But Cordish isn’t alone in opposing more gambling facilities in the state, as Anne Arundel legislators also disapprove of another slots location.
“We laid out a plan that was duly adopted by the people. Businesspeople have spent considerable time and money on the basis of the plan we adopted,” Del. Steven R. Schuh (R-Dist. 31) of Gibson Island said of the 2008 voter referendum approving five slots licenses in the state.
“This is unethical from a business perspective and in no way fair to the business community,” Schuh said.
Del. Ronald A George (R-Dist. 30) of Arnold said most legislators supported slots on a limited basis when in 2007 they approved sending the statewide referendum to voters the following year.
“We still don’t have them up and running. We’re getting there, but we need them up and running before we think about bringing on more,” George said.
He said a casino at National Harbor would put Maryland Live! “smack dab” between gambling locations in Baltimore and Prince George’s.
“I’m not sure if there’s a lot of love for a Vegas-style casino. There’s a lot of hurdles to climb,” he said. “I’ll be surprised if this generates momentum.”