Executive trifecta touts gambling expansion -- Gazette.Net


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Three Maryland county executives joined forces Thursday to blast a recent ad campaign opposing an expansion of gambling in the state and to encourage voters to support the measure.

The group that financed those ads was looking to protect an existing casino in West Virginia, said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who joined Howard County Executive Kenneth Ulman (D) and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) at a news conference in Silver Spring.

“People need to understand that the people behind those ads stand to benefit if we reject this, and that Marylanders will suffer if we reject it,” Leggett said.

The General Assembly voted this summer to approve a plan to expand gambling — including adding table games at existing casinos and authorizing a sixth site, to be located in Prince George’s County — but voters must approve the plan in November.

So far, casino operators on both sides of the issue have poured nearly $20 million into an intense ad campaign to sway voters.

Supporters argue that adding table games statewide would create about 1,600 new jobs, while a new casino would generate 2,000 construction jobs and more than 4,000 permanent jobs. About $200 million would go toward the state’s Education Trust Fund, according to state analysts.

The Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming, which owns Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., has contributed more than $9.5 million to a ballot issue committee opposing the expansion.

Penn National also owns Hollywood Casino in Perryville, one of the three casinos up and running in Maryland.

The committee, called Get the Facts — Vote No on 7, has released ads suggesting that the expansion doesn’t guarantee increased education spending and may only create new jobs by taking them from existing casinos.

But the county executives dismissed those attacks Thursday.

“It makes no sense to have gaming, but only have electronic gaming so you can sit and play with a fake blackjack dealer, but you can’t hire a real blackjack dealer and pay that person a good living wage,” Ulman said. “That’s what this effort is about.”

Baker, who opposed slots when he was a state delegate, has been a leading advocate for bringing gambling to Prince George’s and said the new casino, which he wants at the Waterfront National Harbor development in Oxon Hill, would boost economic development and create good, union jobs.

Leggett acknowledged that he, too, used to oppose slots, but changed his position a few years ago because of the potential for economic development.

MGM Resorts International, the front-runner to operate the Prince George’s casino, has given $8.4 million to a pro-expansion group: FOR Maryland Jobs and Schools.

Meanwhile, the expansion has drawn fire from the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., owners of the $500 million Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, who argue that adding a major casino in Prince George’s would jeopardize their investment.

@$:dleaderman@gazette.net