Baker isn't giving up on casino -- Gazette.Net


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Plans to approve a casino in Prince George’s County this year hit a potentially fatal snag this week, but supporters aren’t giving up just yet.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) on Wednesday asked the governor and legislative leaders to step in to try to sway an appointed work group that couldn’t agree on whether the tax rate on slot machines should be lowered to accommodate a Prince George’s facility and expanded gaming in the state.

Without consensus from the work group, which was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) with recommendations from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis, a special session of the legislature will not be convened to take up expanded gambling.

Baker said there’s still time for lawmakers to act and put the gambling measures before voters, who would have to approve any expansion, in November.

“The people of Maryland deserve a voice in this, and today’s events appear to have put their chance to be included in jeopardy,” Baker said after the work group adjourned without the consensus.

Baker first pitched the idea of bringing a casino to his county in February, arguing that a high-end, billion-dollar gambling emporium and resort at the waterfront National Harbor development would draw customers largely from Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Just last week, the developers of National Harbor announced a deal with MGM Resorts International to build such a casino, which they predicted would create 4,000 permanent jobs.

Shortly after the work group delivered its verdict that it failed to reach a consensus and could not recommend convening a special General Assembly session that was widely expected to begin July 9, MGM announced it was still on board.

“MGM Resorts is committed to Maryland, and our interest in National Harbor is unabated,” James Murren, chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “We remain willing to work together toward this goal, to offer input when asked, as the state deals with the recommendations [of the group].”

Baker’s frustration was shared by county lawmakers including Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 23) of Bowie, who was an alternate, nonvoting member of the work group.

“I’m disappointed that we’re not going to have a new revenue source for education,” Peters said Wednesday. “We would get 4,000 jobs and receive $200 million [for education].”

Others were surprised by the work group outcome, but pleased.

“That’s fine by me,” said Del. Doyle Niemann (D-Dist. 47) of Mount Rainier, who opposes bringing gambling to the county. “I thought this effort was being pushed too far, too fast.”

The county should focus its efforts on other areas, such as a proposed new regional medical center, which would create numerous jobs and development opportunities, or trying to attract cybersecurity jobs and manufacturing jobs in the alternative-energy sector, Niemann said.

dleaderman@gazette.net