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Question 7: A Sixth Casino in Prince Georges County - Who Would Win?
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November 1, 2012
Polls suggest Marylanders are conflicted on referendum Question Seven to allow a sixth slots casino in the state. But many folks in Prince Georges County, who have long felt disrespected, view the glorious prospective site on the Potomac River as their pay window.
WYPR’S Karen Hosler filed this report.
TAPE: (16 seconds) Track 22 ( 01:14 – 01:33) ambi, chanting Vote for Seven, Vote for Seven, ….)
For most Marylanders, deciding whether to expand gambling in the state involves weighing an abstract consideration: Will the economic benefits exceed the cost to existing businesses and problem gamblers?
But for many folks in Prince Georges County, like former County Executive Wayne Curry, approval of Referendum Question 7 is intensely personal. This is a chance for a county with an inferiority complex to show it can play in the big leagues.
IC: “My entire life, people of Prince Georges County have clamored for jobs, for opportunity, for retail spending possibilities for upscale shopping and amenities, and through all the years, even those I served in office, the clamor was always the same.”
Now, Las Vegas-based MGM Grand has offered to invest $800 million in a luxury hotel and casino complex as part of the Oz-like development at National Harbor. Curry told a gathering of private union workers and public employees last week that common sense dictates they accept.
“And it makes good common sense because, in the words of my Grandma: ‘Who turns down money and job opportunities? Who does that?”
But Pastor Jonathan Weaver of Mount Nebo AME Church in Bowie says the new casino would be a sucker’s bet for Prince Georges County residents, who have the second-highest level of foreclosures in Maryland.
"And so why make it more convenient for people to lose their money? The bottom line is that our elected officials that are supporting this are saying the only way that we can realistically generate revenue is to have people lose money. That’s a sad commentary.”
This is where the fate of a sixth casino in Maryland will be decided. If referendum Question 7 passes statewide, but not in Prince Georges County, there will be no new casino—although, the five slots parlors already approved would get table games.
MGM Grand and its allies are waging tens of millions of dollars on an advertising campaign in favor of Question Seven. Fighting back with equal firepower is Penn National, another gambling giant, which fears a National Harbor casino would draw from its money-maker in Charlestown, West Virginia.
Rushern Baker, the current county executive, says opposition from Pastor Weaver and his clerical colleagues is not of great concern to him.
“Ministers who are morally opposed we understand. But once again they are not the people that are leading the opposition. They’re not putting ads on, telling lies, that’s Penn National.”
Penn National ads charge promises of new jobs and school aid are phony. But Weaver suggests the ad war hides what’s really going on.
"I think that what’s not being heard is that quiet but very forceful voice, particularly in the faith community, that knows full well that when they go the polls, they are voting no to Question No. 7.”
We’ll soon see if he knows his flock.
I’m Karen Hosler, reporting from National Harbor, for 88.1 WYPR.
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