Maryland casino panel puts finishing touches on request for proposals -- Gazette.Net


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National Harbor, the $4 billion resort and mixed-use development in Oxon Hill, has long been considered the leading contender to host Maryland’s sixth casino, but it’s not a done deal, says the head of the state panel that will pick the location.

“Our responsibility as a commission is to look at any and all proposals to determine which is the best fit,” Donald Fry, chairman of the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, said Friday, one day after his panel OK’d its draft request for proposals.

The commission will begin taking bids for the new Prince George’s County license Wednesday.

Voters authorized Maryland’s new casino license via referendum in November, following a $93 million campaign that pit MGM Resorts International, which wants to build a Las Vegas-style casino at National Harbor, against Penn National Gaming, owner of Rosecroft Raceway in nearby Fort Washington. Citing the vocal support of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and other county leaders for MGM, Penn National claimed the deck was stacked in MGM’s favor. The referendum’s results are the subject of a pending lawsuit over the definition of “qualified” voters.

Fry pointed out that the new law does not identify a specific location in Prince George’s, such as National Harbor. The law does stipulate that the casino must be within a four-mile radius of the intersection of Bock Road and St. Barnabas Road.

Both National Harbor and Rosecroft, a harness racing track, fit this requirement, said Fry, adding that other sites the commission is not yet aware of also might apply for the license.

People need to be aware that a license is not guaranteed at National Harbor, he said, citing concerns that arose when the Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, near Arundel Mills, was selected for a license, even though many assumed it would go to nearby Laurel Park. In that case, the license was required to go to a site within two miles of Route 295 in Anne Arundel County, a criterion under which both locations qualified.

“We’re trying to move as quickly as possible but also make sure to give any interested parties reasonable time to respond,” Fry said.

License bidders must apply by May 10.

MGM, for one, is eager to apply.

“Our interest in Maryland is unabated. We view Prince George’s County and National Harbor as one of the strongest untapped destination resort markets in the country,” MGM spokesman Gordon Absher wrote in an email to The Gazette on Friday.

MGM has proposed building a $800 million casino at National Harbor.

He said the Las Vegas company has been studying the Greater Washington, D.C., market for months, meeting with residents and listening to their concerns and wishes for the community.

“Our experts are busy drawing up designs and programming for a resort that will be unique to this location, its history and community. With the [request for proposal] guidelines in hand, our work can truly begin in earnest,” Absher said. “We plan to earn the privilege of being Maryland’s newest license holder and that effort will be reflected in the proposal we bring to the table for consideration.”

Meanwhile, Penn National of Wyomissing, Pa., is still considering a submission, spokeswoman Karen Bailey wrote in an email to The Gazette on Friday.

“If/when that is decided and the application is prepared, we will share the details then,” Bailey said.

Penn National already owns one of Maryland’s casino licenses in Cecil County, for its Hollywood Casino Perryville. Because state law prohibits a company from owning more than one license, Penn National would have to divest itself of that license, if it secures the Prince George’s location.

A pre-proposal conference is planned for Feb. 20 at the Maryland State Lottery Agency in Baltimore for questions on the proposals and the bidding process, Fry said.

The Prince George’s casino cannot begin operating before July 1, 2016, or 30 months after the casino in Baltimore city is open, according to state law. A license owner, however, could request to operate table games in a temporary facility upon winning a license.

lrobbins@gazette.net