In Maryland, some casino foes become friends
Threat of sixth facility makes pragmatic bedfellows
David Jones stands in front of the Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills. He actively opposed the casino but now is defending it and opposing a proposed casino at the National Harbor complex in Prince George's County. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor / July 12, 2012)
Last month, he again stood behind a podium at a neighborhood meeting — this time defending the Maryland Live Casino and asking for the community's revenue cut to be devoted to math and science programs.
"With the threat of a sixth casino coming on line at National Harbor, we who live right next to this casino have to think about our quality of life," Jones said later, explaining his change of heart. "I still believe that it shouldn't have been here. Now what do you do? You cobble together what you can, and you do the best you can."
As state lawmakers wrestle with questions about expanding gaming, some former foes of the Maryland Live casino have become its allies in opposing a proposed casino at the National Harbor complex inPrince George's County. Like Maryland Live's developers, they perceive competition from a Las Vegas-style resort on the Potomac as a threat to the state's biggest and most lucrative casino, which is still in its infancy.
Such is the evolution of the gambling debate in Maryland. Politicians and lobbyists alike have crossed lines they once drew in the sand. And while residents next door to the casino at Arundel Mills may still not like it, they're willing to be pragmatic bedfellows.
Gov.Martin O' Malleycalled using gambling money for education a "morally bankrupt" effort when he was Baltimore mayor. This summer, he has pushed for a special session on the National Harbor casino proposal and related issues — with a decision expected within days — in part to end the distracting debate about gambling and in part to funnel millions into education.
Similarly, lobbyist W. Minor Carter led the effort against a 2008 referendum that first legalized casinos in Maryland. Now he represents National Harbor.
"In my conscience, I don't think I flip-flopped, but I can see how other people might have that opinion," Carter said, adding that even in his opposition, he believed a casino should be a destination like Atlantic City, Las Vegas and, now, National Harbor.
Prince George's County ExecutiveRushern L. Baker IIIopposed slots as a state delegate, but he spent the first half of this year lobbying state lawmakers to expand gambling into his county. Anne Arundel County ExecutiveJohn R. Leopoldalso worked against slots as a state delegate, but now Leopold is one of the highest-profile defenders of the casino at Arundel Mills. Leopold said county executives have different perspectives than legislators.
"Facing the harsh realities of a down-turned economy, job creation and revenue generation have become the overarching priorities," Leopold said.
State leaders continue closed-door meetings on whether to call back the Maryland General Assembly for a special session on expanding gambling. O'Malley said Monday there was "a little better than 50-50 chance" that a special session would be called. On Tuesday, he met with House SpeakerMichael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, and a special session remains a possibility.
Boon or bane?
Meanwhile, David Cordish, president ofthe Cordish Cos.that developed the Arundel Mills casino, sent a letter to legislators and the governor arguing data from the casino's first month shows Maryland Live's market share is bigger than estimated by the state analysts who concluded Maryland could support a sixth casino. With the distribution of Maryland Live's customers stretching more than 50 miles away into Virginia and Southern Maryland, Cordish said, the National Harbor site would siphon away so many gamblers from Arundel Mills that it couldn't open without causing a "massive loss" to the state.
Even without having seen statistics, some former casino opponents near Arundel Mills agree that Maryland Live will suffer if National Harbor gets a casino.
Lore Peterson, who lives a little more than a mile from the Maryland Live Casino in the Provinces neighborhood, fought to ensure that roads were upgraded to handle traffic from the casino and the restaurants and apartment buildings built in its wake. Now she sits on the development council that tells Anne Arundel County government how to divvy up the $15 million the casino generates for local needs.
"We tried to tell the county that we didn't want it, but the county didn't listen and now it's here," Peterson said of the casino. "Now that it's there, it's time to put everything aside."
During a recent meeting, Peterson criticized state leaders for considering the addition of a competing casino after forcing one on her community.
"They're doing the citizens of Hanover a dirty trick," Peterson said. "How can the politicians be doing this to their constituents? ... It's here, and we've got it. Now we have to support it."
Peterson's remarks landed on the sympathetic ears of Joseph Weinberg, president of development atthe Cordish Cos.and the company's representative on the local development council.