"We clearly would have not made the investment we made, or done the project at all, if we knew there was going to be another facility down the street," Weinberg said. That echoed the argument he has made to lawmakers: A tightly regulated and highly taxed industry should be treated more like a utility than a private business. Too many casinos, Weinberg said, will dilute the success of each one.

"You can't build them everywhere," he said.

Advocates of the National Harbor site disagree. They point to the analysis by Maryland's Department of Legislative Services and PricewaterhouseCoopers that estimates the state would receive an additional $223 million by authorizing a sixth casino and allowing table games statewide.

"If the Maryland legislature were to approve an expanded gaming package, the official independent state economic analysis concluded that the Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills would actually be more profitable, rather than less," Howard Libit, a spokesman for National Harbor's developer, the Peterson Cos., said in a statement. The operators of Maryland Live stand to gain $31 million in annual revenue, the report found.

Maryland's gambling debate has transitioned from whether to have slots at all to where to place casinos and now whether to expand gambling to include table games, change the tax rate and add a sixth casino.

Aaron Meisner, a Baltimore financial adviser who led the Stop Slots Maryland campaign, argued in 2008 that legalizing gambling would lead to endless debate about expanding it. He said recently that as the debate shifts, so will the allegiance of former gambling opponents whose incentives have changed.

"It's basic, all-American self-interest," Meisner said. "I don't think it's specific to gambling. These are the basic forces of human nature."

Other concerns

Even with shifting loyalties, the casino at Arundel Mills has not won the whole-hearted support of some of its neighbors.

Greg Pearson's Somerton Court home sits on a residential street close to Maryland Live, and his 22-year-old son recently got a job at the new Joe's Crab Shack that opened along with the casino. He agrees the casino's success is tied to the quality of his neighborhood, but he struggles to be sympathetic to the gambling interests.

"We feel like they forced this on us, and now they're complaining?" Pearson said. "No one owes them anything."

Aside from the 10-minute drive that turned into a two-hour gridlock nightmare the night the casino opened, Pearson considers the casino a decent neighbor, though one he'll never like.

"Having it in your front yard is a different thing," Pearson said. "I want to see it succeed because I don't want it to become a blight, but I won't go as far to say I'll protect it."

Cherisa Henderson, 30, lives in the Villages of Dorchester neighborhood near Arundel Mills, and she dislikes the casino now as much as when it was proposed.

"We have a JumboTron down the street from our house," she said. "The neighborhood itself is changing from a family neighborhood to a party neighborhood."

She said children's activities at the mall's food court have been removed as the mall, and the casino, tries to attract a higher-end clientele, and points to the new Coach store as Exhibit A.

Yet, she said, she doesn't want the casino to fail. She wants the money it generates to be invested in schools, and — most of all — she doesn't want competition from another casino to make the situation worse.

"In this housing economy, we can't just up and move," she said.

Fears that gambling competition will harm Maryland Live also touched the management of Arundel Mills mall.

"We were a very successful mall before this was even a twinkle in our eyes," said Gene Condon, general manager of the mall. "If this [casino] is not successful because it is cut off at the legs from the south, it could damage an already successful project."

Whether the mall's financial future is at stake remains a question to Mike Carruthers, whose development company owns several office and apartment buildings around Arundel Mills. Carruthers is also chairman of the local development council that signed off on using the community's $15 million cut of casino revenue to pay for three police officers, a new ambulance, technology at the local library branch, $1 million worth of road resurfacing projects and a $2 million satellite campus for Anne Arundel Community College.

"I don't have a dog in that fight, but what I do know is that the people around Arundel Mills were told this is how we're going to play this game, and if you get this casino, you're going to get this amount of money," he said.

"Now, they have this casino, they have the potential problems, and now the state wants to change the rules." Carruthers said. "It doesn't matter if you have 250,000 people or half a million people [at the casino]. You still have the same problems. You just have less money to mitigate it."

ecox@baltsun.com