Seven months after the opening of the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, elected officials gathered to celebrate a milestone in the construction of a large new casino in Prince George's County that Gov. Larry Hogan called "one of the most important economic development projects in Maryland history."
Six cranes loomed overhead, cement mixers hummed and bulldozers pushed dirt Wednesday afternoon at the building site of MGM National Harbor, a $1.2 billion resort casino scheduled to open in the second half of 2016.
"MGM National Harbor is a shining example of where we're headed in our state with respect to economic development," Hogan, who grew up in Prince George's County, told about 300 dignitaries at the site.
MGM received its license to become the state's sixth casino in December 2013, beating rivals Penn National Gaming, which proposed a $700 million facility at its Rosecroft Raceway harness track in Fort Washington, and Greenwood Racing, which pitched a $761 million facility off Indian Head Highway.
Hogan was elected in November after pledging during the campaign to improve the state's business climate and create jobs. Officials said Wednesday that the casino project already has created half of a projected 2,000 construction jobs.
National Harbor now has waterfront restaurants and stores, a hotel, Ferris wheel, carousel and a growing residential community. The excavation of the casino site, adjacent to Interstate 95, is nearly complete.
The casino will have a commanding view of the Potomac River, and its prime location — just south of Washington and near Virginia's fast-growing counties — is expected to change Maryland's casino landscape.
Noting that Virginia is just across the river, Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III joked: "We're going to put up a big sign: 'Come spend your money.'"
Until MGM opens, Maryland Live — located at Arundel Mills mall — and the Horseshoe are the nearest casinos to the prime Washington and Northern Virginia population hubs.
"I think Maryland Live will be OK, but [MGM] is a direct competitive threat to Maryland Live and to Horseshoe to some extent," said James Karmel, a casino analyst and history professor at Harford Community College. "Just as Maryland Live has benefited from its location, this one will too."
MGM says the casino will employ 3,600 workers and projects a payroll of $160 million per year, and says its goal is to fill half its jobs with Prince George's County residents. It wants at least 20 percent of construction-related employment to go to county residents.
"Jobs are one of the things I'm really happy about," said Janie Oliver, an electrician at the site who lives in Upper Marlboro. "It's the biggest project I've ever worked on. I have one grandson and someday he can drive by here and say, 'My grandmother had a part in this.'"
Oliver loves to play slot machines. She said she occasionally drives to Maryland Live, but MGM "will be my home" once it opens.
MGM said its complex will feature 3,600 slots and 160 table games, a 1,200¿seat theater and 4,800 parking spaces.
MGM broke ground on the project last year but said it was too busy to mark the occasion.
"We wanted to do something to celebrate," said Lorenzo Creighton, MGM National Harbor's president and chief operating officer.