Southern Prince George’s residents are ramping up opposition to a proposed casino at National Harbor as the selection process for developers begins Monday.
Forest Heights passed a resolution Oct. 7 officially opposing MGM International Resorts building a casino at National Harbor, less than a mile from homes in the town and in Oxon Hill. The town also created an online petition that went live Oct. 10, collecting signatures against the harbor site. Residents from Oxon Hill, Fort Washington and Forest Heights protested at the site Oct. 9, holding signs and T-shirts with the words, “No to a casino.”
“We don’t want to think of Prince George’s County as, ‘That’s where the casino is,’” said Forest Heights Mayor Jacqueline Goodall. “We want people to think of it as a place to raise their children.”
Goodall said the casino shouldn’t be built at National Harbor because it is too close to the community. The best option would be Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, she said, because people who live there bought their homes after the raceway was built and knew what they getting into when they purchased their homes.
The Maryland Video Lottery Facility Commission, tasked with overseeing the Prince George’s County casino selection process, has accepted bids from three different companies vying for the state’s sixth and the county’s first casino license. Each company has proposed a south Prince George’s County site, with MGM International Resorts proposing a site at National Harbor, Greenwood Racing petitioning for a site at the intersection of Indian Head Highway and Old Fort Road in Fort Washington and Penn National Gaming hoping to renovate its existing Fort Washington location, Rosecroft Raceway.
Each casino will give a presentation to the commission starting with Penn National Gaming on Oct. 21, Greenwood Racing on Oct. 23 and MGM International Resorts on Oct. 25. Each meeting will consist of a 2 p.m. site visit, a 4:30 p.m. presentation to the commission and a 6 p.m. public hearing, where residents can testify regarding the casinos. The presentation and hearing will take place at Friendly High School in Fort Washington.
“[The casino] is inappropriate,” said Bonnie Bick of Oxon Hill, who was at the protest. “They wouldn’t put the casino in Rockville, would they? Why would they put it in Oxon Hill?”
Bick said she was protesting the casino because of the damage it could cause the community — she cited increased crime and poverty — and also because Milt Peterson, principal and chairman of The Peterson Cos. and developer of National Harbor, said he would never bring gambling into the area. Now he has made an about face and its putting the community at risk, Bick said. Peterson admitted his change of view in a 2012 Washington Post article, stating that the National Harbor development had lost about $10 million due to the housing market crash and The Walt Disney Co. abandoning plans to build a 500-room destination resort, so it was time to try something new.
Joyce Evans of Fort Washington said she was protesting the National Harbor casino because it could lower the values of homes in a county that is already suffering from foreclosures.
Residential communities like this don’t need the kinds of things that come with casinos, such as gentleman’s clubs and strip clubs, she said.
“We want people to understand it won’t be good for us,” Evans said. “The county may benefit, but the community won’t.”
Xeno St. Cyr of Fort Washington has been vocal on his support for a county casino. It will be a new revenue source for the area, and it will bring jobs and money, he said.
“National Harbor is already an entertainment tourist convention and shopping venue,” St. Cyr said. “That proposed location would seem to be ideal.”