PG County lob­bies law­mak­ers for casino

Na­tional Har­bor, Rose­croft likely

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID HILL

AN­NAPO­LIS | Prince Ge­orge’s County of­fi­cials are urg­ing state law­mak­ers to act quickly in pass­ing a bill that could pave the way for a $1 bil­lion casino in the county, but some leg­is­la­tors have lin­ger­ing doubts about the pro­posal.

Law­mak­ers have just three weeks re­main­ing in this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion to con­sider a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that would al­low Prince Ge­orge’s to be the site for the state’s sixth casino and le­gal­ize ta­ble games at all six sites in ad­di­tion to cur­rently le­gal slots ma­chines.

County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern L. Baker III told the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee on Fri­day that his county would be an ideal lo­ca­tion for a casino and that po­ten­tial rev­enue could solve a lot of fis­cal prob­lems, both in the county and the state.

“It’s very im­por­tant that we have the abil­ity to have rev­enues,” said Mr. Baker, a Demo­crat. “I’ve got to go back up to Wall Street and pitch for our triple-a bond rat­ing, and with­out telling Wall Street where an­other source of rev­enue is com­ing, it’s go­ing to be a very in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion.”

The state first le­gal­ized slots through a 2008 ref­er­en­dum. Rev­enue has been less than ex­pected as the state has thus far opened just two of five planned slots par­lors and has strug­gled to find de­vel­op­ers for sites in Al­le­gany County and Bal­ti­more.

Prince Ge­orge’s of­fi­cials op­posed slots in their county in 2008, but now say gam­bling could bring them more than $40 mil­lion a year in lo­cal rev­enue.

They also see ta­ble games as a way to re­vive the strug­gling slots par­lors and com­pete with neigh­bor­ing states.

The bill, spon­sored by Del­e­gate Bar­bara A. Frush, Prince Ge­orge’s Demo­crat, would call for a statewide ref­er­en­dum this Novem­ber to de­cide whether to add a sixth casino and le­gal­ize ta­ble games.

Sup­port­ers are urg­ing the Gen­eral Assem­bly to pass the bill this year, con­sid­er­ing that their next shot at a ref­er­en­dum wouldn’t be un­til 2014.

How­ever, some law­mak­ers are skep­ti­cal of the pro­posal and ar­gue the state should wait for the cur­rent five lo­ca­tions to prove them­selves as vi­able be­fore adding a sixth site.

Oth­ers have balked at the county’s pro­posal to re­duce the por­tion of gam­bling rev­enue that would go to ed­u­ca­tion and in­crease the por­tion that would go to a de­vel­oper.

“There are some other com­po­nents of the bill which I think are deeply trou­bling,” said Del­e­gate Eric G. Luedtke, Mont­gomery Demo­crat.

“Why de­crease that [ed­u­ca­tion] com­mit­ment so soon af­ter the vot­ers au­tho­rized slots for this pur­pose?”

If Prince Ge­orge’s gets a casino, a state com­mis­sion would even­tu­ally de­cide where to put the fa­cil­ity af­ter con­sid­er­ing bids from de­vel­op­ers.

How­ever, Mr. Baker has made clear that he wants it built at Na­tional Har­bor — a sprawl­ing waterfront de­vel­op­ment just south of the Dis­trict.

If the county re­ceives a gam­bling li­cense, a com­pet­ing bid will likely emerge to place the casino at the 63year-old Rose­croft Race­way har­ness­rac­ing track in Oxon Hill.

Mr. Baker and Na­tional Har­bor’s own­ers have ar­gued their com­plex al­ready has the road in­fra­struc­ture, vis­i­tors and en­ter­tain­ment and re­tail venues to make a po­ten­tial $1 bil­lion casino an at­trac­tive, high-end des­ti­na­tion.

They also haven’t been shy in tout­ing the no­tion that a casino there would at­tract most of its vis­i­tors from the Dis­trict, Virginia and points be­yond — al­low­ing the county and state to rake in mil­lions in rev­enue with­out hav­ing it come ex­clu­sively from the pock­ets of Mary­lan­ders.

Sup­port­ers of the pro­posal must still con­vince law­mak­ers that the casino won’t draw busi­ness from the state’s other sites, par­tic­u­larly a planned slots casino in Bal­ti­more.

Cae­sars En­ter­tain­ment is lead­ing a bid to build the Bal­ti­more fa­cil­ity but some city of­fi­cials have wor­ried a Na­tional Har­bor casino could draw the de­vel­oper to Prince Ge­orge’s in­stead.

Cae­sars ex­ec­u­tives tes­ti­fied Fri­day they are fully com­mit­ted to the Bal­ti­more project.

“It’s a big bill and there’s only a lit­tle bit of time left,” said Del­e­gate Justin D. Ross, Prince Ge­orge’s Demo­crat. “But I’ve seen big­ger things pass in even less time.”

PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY BAR­BARA L. SAL­IS­BURY/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

For­rest John­ston (above), 11, of Great Falls com­petes in the fi­nals at the Na­tional Trum­pet Com­pe­ti­tion at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity on Sun­day. For­rest was one of 15 stu­dents to com­pete in the ju­nior di­vi­sion and one of only three to make it through to the fi­nals. For­rest (top left) warms up on Fri­day with Rich, his fa­ther, in one of the prac­tice rooms at Ge­orge Ma­son. For­rest (above right) checks out a com­peti­tor who walks by his prac­tice room. This is the 20th an­niver­sary of the com­pe­ti­tion. Com­peti­tors in the high school di­vi­sion pat For­rest on the back and ap­plaud for him on Sun­day when it be­comes ob­vi­ous, by process of elim­i­na­tion, that he has won the com­pe­ti­tion in his di­vi­sion.

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