A television ad from a group opposing a casino at National Harbor went on the air this month with an inflammatory charge against MGM, the prospective operator of the proposed facility.
The ad, sponsored by the Prince George's Contractors and Business Association, links MGM with organized crime by pointing to the company's decision to leave the New Jersey market rather than cut its ties to a Chinese business woman whom that state's gaming commission deemed an unfit partner.
The ad says, in part:
What do we really know about a proposed casino at National Harbor?
There are more questions than answers.
Why did the company which would run the casino forfeit its New Jersey license rather than give up ties to organized crime?
In claiming that MGM had "ties to organized crime," the ad is citing a report by New Jersey casino authorities. It is true that MGM decided to sell its interest in an Atlantic City casino after New Jersey authorities decided its partnership in Macao with Chinese businesswoman Pansy Ho was "unsuitable" for an operator in that state. A state investigatory agency decided in 2009 that her finances were intertwined with those of her father, who has been alleged to have extensive connections with Asian organized crime.
The 74-page New Jersey investigative report is highly critical of the company's decision to pursue a partnership with Pansy Ho, saying MGM failed to adequately investigate her financial ties to her father in its "fervor" to enter the Macao market. It found that MGM's compliance efforts and due diligence in the case were "deficient."
According to MGM chief executive James J. Murren, the company made a business decision to divest its interest in the New Jersey casino and to continue its partnership with Pansy Ho in the more lucrative Macao market. He said MGM could have asked for a hearing in New Jersey but decided not to. Murren noted that the Nevada casino commission, looking at essentially the same facts, approved the partnership. According to media reports, three other states reached the same conclusion as Nevada.
Murren said the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement made no finding that MGM itself had organized crime ties. The executive said he was "extremely upset with this body of lies" spread by the contractors' group.
"The question has to be asked who's funding this and what their motivation is," he said.
The Sun put those questions to Lisa Ellis, public relations director of the minority contractors association.
Ellis said the ad campaign was financed from the group's own resources and not contributions from rival gambling interests opposed to National Harbor. "We do not receive support and are not sponsored by any organization outside of ourselves," she said.
She said the association stands by the ad and pointed to the New Jersey report.
Nevertheless, Ellis said, MGM was not the group's real target. She said the association has a longstanding dispute with the Peterson Cos., developer of National Harbor and MGM's casino venture partner, over its minority contracting record. "This is not a personal grievance with MGM," she said. "This is a personal grievance with the legislative body sole-sourcing a project of this magnitude to the Peterson Cos."
According to House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the legislation the General Assembly intends to take up in a special session would not hand a casino license to National Harbor but would set up a process where it would have to compete with other sites in that part of Prince George's.
Ellis said that if that is in fact the case, the group may withdraw its opposition to the bill. "There's no opposition to a fair process," she said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun