Prince George’s officials and business leaders envision a high-rolling success with a billion-dollar casino at National Harbor, but competitors are crying foul.
“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 $500 million Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills in Hanover 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.”
A slots location in Prince George’s would reduce revenues by 10 percent at the facilities in Hanover and Baltimore, according to a fiscal statement attached to the bill proposing the Prince George’s license.
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 high-end 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.”
Baker’s proposal comes after Penn National Gaming, owner of Rosecroft Raceway in nearby Fort Washington, has spent months drumming up support for a slots license in Prince George’s County — for its racetrack.
Steven Snyder, senior vice president of corporate development for Penn National, blasted the National Harbor proposal at a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
Penn National spent $12 million to acquire Rosecroft in a bankruptcy auction in February 2011 and $1 million more renovating the track before holding its first race in three years in October, Snyder said in a statement. He said a $300 million slots facility at Rosecroft would “revitalize” both Rosecroft and the surrounding community.
The company was “deeply disappointed” to learn of Baker’s proposal, he said.
On the other hand, the Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., owner of the $4 billion mixed-use National Harbor complex, 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.
“So the developers who have already been the beneficiaries of nearly a half a billion dollars of taxpayer support for National Harbor and who have allegedly been opposed to the concept of gaming there, now are seeking a tax break to support this 11th hour proposal for a billion dollar resort,” Snyder said in his prepared testimony.
He emphasized that unlike National Harbor’s proposal, Rosecroft’s proposal will not require any tax rollbacks. Snyder also referred to National Harbor’s previous troubles with minority business participation, saying Penn has a strong track record of working with the minority business community.
“To date, only one racetrack in the state has been able to take advantage of this opportunity,” Snyder said of adding slots. “A license at Rosecroft Raceway is the last viable option for racing in this state.”
Baker has projected the casino would create 5,000 permanent jobs and 1,300 construction jobs.
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 that 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 upscale 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 that a study the county conducted on the economics of building a casino at 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.