Horse-racing focus takes the reins at first Prince George’s casino hearing -- Gazette.Net


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Rosecroft Raceway received overwhelming support Monday as the site for a proposed casino, with Prince George’s County residents stressing the importance of revitalizing the horse-racing industry and the raceway’s surrounding community.

“You are going to lose a major industry,” Joyce Evans of Fort Washington told the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Commission during a public hearing where Penn National Gaming made a presentation in hopes of building the first casino in the county. “It is significant that [Penn National Gaming is] going to keep and help protect this particular industry in Maryland.”

Penn National is one of three companies vying to open Maryland’s sixth casino. Each company must present to the commission and the public with a site visit, long-form presentation and public comments. Greenwood Gaming’s hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, and MGM International Resort’s will begin at 2 p.m. Friday at the MGM National Harbor site.

Penn National, the owner of Rosecroft in Fort Washington, said it would expand the horse racing park into a gaming resort that would provide revenues for the county and invigorate the racing industry, which officials said thrives when connected to other gaming, such as slot machines.

“We think this market is very strong and very deep,” said Tim Wilmott, Penn National Gaming president and chief operating officer.

Many horse breeders came to the podium to talk about how their industry has struggled but said facilities like Rosecroft help their businesses. The commission asked Penn National officials what would happen to Rosecroft if the company didn’t get the license.

“Rosecroft Raceway is profitable today,” Wilmott said. “There are no plans to close it.”

Penn National’s public hearing began at Rosecroft, where the company wants to demolish the current building and construct a new $700 million facility, the Hollywood Casino Resort at Rosecroft Raceway, that would have 3,000 slot machines, 100 live gaming tables, a 13-story hotel and an event center that seats 2,500 people, and would continue the raceway’s current harness racing, according to the company’s presentation.

The new facility would create about 1,600 new jobs, which would be a combination of full-time and part-time jobs, according to the presentation.

If Rosecroft is awarded the casino license, the company plans to donate its profits to local communities, with $100 million being donated over about 10 years to the Prince George’s County Hospital Center to build satellite health clinics in neighborhoods, according to the presentation. It also plans to donate profits to a county teacher supplemental retirement fund, which would total up to $219 million over about 15 years, and contribute $200,000 annually to community groups and nonprofits in District 8, which includes Fort Washington, Clinton and Forest Heights areas, according to the presentation.

If approved, Penn National can deliver on building this facility, said Jim Baum, Penn National Gaming senior vice president of project development.

“We have successfully built six casinos in the last five years,” Baum said. “This is in our wheelhouse.”

Lewis Johnson, a District Heights resident who plans to move to Fort Washington, said he believes Penn National will make good on their pledge to donate profits to the hospital center and teacher’s retirement fund.

“I’m asking you all to please give Penn National the green light to build at Rosecroft Raceway,” Johnson said during his testimony.

Not all residents came to the meeting in support of Rosecroft, however. Ron Westbrook, who is a retired boarding stable owner, said he was originally in support of the casino license going to MGM International Resorts, which would build its casino at National Harbor in Oxon Hill. But after listening to residents tell the commission that Rosecroft would invigorate the horse racing industry, Westbrook said he might be coming around to Penn National Gaming.

“It just makes sense, you know,” he said. “It would help bring up the horse industry.”

ccook@gazette.net