Ulman lends his voice in support of gambling expansion

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman Thursday for the first time publicly endorsed the gambling expansion question that will appear on November's ballot in Maryland.

"It's about education; it's about jobs," Ulman said, speaking alongside Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker — well-known supporters of the expansion — at a news conference Thursday afternoon at Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.

Baker organized the event to drum up support for Question 7, the referendum on legislation the General Assembly passed in a special session this summer to expand the state's gambling program to include table games and add a sixth casino in Prince George's County.

"This is about expanding resources in the state," Baker said. "Ken is here making sure Howard County, Baltimore County, everyone understands how important it is."

In his brief remarks, Ulman talked about the 2,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs that would be created by a sixth casino, as well as the dealer jobs that allowing table games would create at all the casinos in the state.

He also discussed the revenue the expansion would raise for the Education Trust Fund, which is where the majority of gambling revenues are earmarked to go.

Jobs and money for education were also mentioned by the other two Democratic county executives. All three also noted the money being spent on advertising against the gambling expansion referendum.

"Just like I want Maryland to beat West Virginia in football on Saturday, I want the great state of Maryland to beat back this out-of-state money that's coming from West Virginia in November," said Ulman, referring to the $9.5 million Penn National Gaming, which owns Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., has raised for its campaign against Question 7.

But Penn National also has ties to Maryland, as it owns Hollywood Casino in Perryville and Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County. Penn National wants Rosecroft to be a part of the site discussion for the sixth casino, but Baker and other politicians have thrown their support behind National Harbor, a site in southern Prince George's that has drawn interest from the world's largest casino operator, MGM Resorts International.

In an interview following the press conference, Ulman said it was the money Penn National was spending on the effort that made him decide to lend his voice in support of the referendum. He said he wants that gambling money to stay in Maryland.

"I spent a lot of time thinking about whether I would or should get involved ... At the end of the day, that's what really tipped me over," Ulman said.

Ulman also noted that he's always believed in the state having table games if it was going to have gambling.

"Either don't do it or do it all the way," he said.

Regarding the Prince George's casino, Ulman admitted he is concerned about how all six sites will work together.

If this measure is approved, Howard County will nearly fully surrounded by casinos — one to the south in Prince George's County, one to the north in Baltimore City and one to the east in Anne Arundel County.

A spokesman for Vote No On 7, which opposes the ballot question, criticized the county executives' reasons for supporting the question.

"Maryland voters today heard another round of overly optimistic claims from Question 7 backers," wrote Kevin McLaughlin in an email, "but what proponents of expanding gambling aren't telling voters is that independent media fact checkers like The Baltimore Sun find their promises of new jobs and increased education funding to be 'blatantly misleading.'"

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