By Len Lazarick
Any compromise on a 6th slots casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County is complicated by strong regional interests of those jurisdictions like Baltimore City that already are supposed to have one of five casinos.
The failure to pass an expansion of casino gambling was blamed for the General Assembly’s inability to complete its work on the state budget and the revenues to pay for it by the April 9 deadline.
City delegates at an end-of-session wrap-up with the NAACP at Union Baptist Church in West Baltimore Tuesday night made it clear that “protecting the site in Baltimore” is of paramount importance in any new gaming, as Del. Keith Haynes put it. Three and half years after voters approved video lottery terminals, a license still has not been issued for the Baltimore site off Russell Street in Baltimore.
An operator that includes Caesar’s Entertainment has applied for the license to operate the Baltimore location, which could be issued in June.
What Baltimore will get
The city delegation needs to make sure “how the funds are divvied up,” Haynes said.
“We really felt like we need to protect Baltimore City,” said Del. Shawn Tarrant. “Why would we vote to get competition? They were gonna eat our lunch.”
The largest casino, Maryland Live! with 4,750 slot machines at Arundel Mills, is due to open in June just 13 miles south of the Baltimore location, and the proposed casino at National Harbor on the Potomac Bridge south of the Wilson bridge is 43 miles away.
National Harbor “is absolutely the most strategically located,” said Del. Melvin Stukes, and able to attract customers from Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Run by Gaylord Hotels, National Harbor is an upscale resort and convention center, a Disneyworld environment where “everyone smells nice, everyone looks nice,” Tarrant said. “Reality lives on Russell Street,” a gritty industrial zone south of the stadiums.
Stukes said, “Right now Baltimore is getting zero, zero” from the casinos to help its strapped budget.
So far, the two operating casinos at Perryville in Cecil County and at Ocean Downs have generated $227 million with $110 million going to the education trust fund and $12 million in local impact aid.
“I would still like Baltimore City to get something,” Stukes said.
Anne Arundel County government is estimating it will get $15 million in the coming fiscal year from Maryland Live! developed by the Cordish Co. The Anne Arundel County delegation is strongly opposed to a sixth casino that would compete with Maryland Live!, as is Cordish.
Del. Cheryl Glenn said that Baltimore City’s 18 delegates “can leverage our votes for something.”
She was particularly interested that any bill for a new casino include “a project labor agreement” that generally guarantees union labor.
“Our people can’t get jobs,” said Glenn, while “all the unions have apprenticeship programs” that bring people into the workforce.
But Glenn insisted, “It’s not about unions. It’s about supporting working men and women.”
It was concerns about its local impact that had the city delegation wanting to see major changes in the SB892 before it could support the measure.
Last week, Del. Frank Turner, chairman of the gaming subcommittee in the House Ways and Means Committee, said that on the final night of the session delegates were prepared to offer a string of amendments. “I would have been fighting off amendments for half the night,” Turner said.
“I liked how we held together” on the gambling measure, said Del. Mary Washington. “We liked how that felt.”