Expanded gambling: pathway to jobs or wrong-way street?
Md. casino issue draws impassioned support, opposition
Tamara Davis Brown, an attorney in Clinton, is opposed to gambling expansion in Maryland. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston / October 19, 2012)
Ambrose "Bo" Vogt, a union construction worker from Pasadena, believes the effort to expand gambling in Maryland would create jobs in a field in which work has been scarce.
But Tamara Davis Brown, an attorney in Clinton, thinks legalizing table games and allowing a casino in Prince George's would tarnish the image and economic future of the county she has called home since 1988.
Both are firmly committed — Vogt to supporting Question 7 and Brown to opposing it. The referendum campaign has been dominated by the lavish spending of rival casino giants on slick advertising spots, but for some voters, the issue is deeply felt and intensely personal.
"I don't want Prince George's County to be the entertainment capital," Brown said. "I think we need a better brand than 'entertainment capital.'"
Vogt doesn't see a downside to allowing more gambling in Maryland.
"I don't think it's any risk to us — to the state or the people that live here," he said. "It's going to make money. There's going to be revenue generated."
Approval of Question 7 would clear the way for a new casino in Prince George's County while legalizing table games there and at the five Maryland sites now licensed for slot machines. Most observers believe the leading candidate for a Prince George's casino is National Harbor, a swank development on the Potomac River where Brown likes to shop and attend shows such as Cirque du Soleil.
Brown wants to block a new casino as much as Vogt wants to build it.
The two come to the issue from different places in life. She's 46, black and upper middle class. He's 61, white and carries a union card as a member of Local 24, Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers.
In Brown's corner is Penn National Gaming, which sees a National Harbor casino as a threat to profits from its casinos in Perryville and West Virginia. In Vogt's is MGM Entertainment Resorts, which wants a piece of Maryland gambling revenue. Together, the companies and related interests have thrown $60 million into the contest.
According to legislative analysts, the expanded gambling plan adopted by the General Assembly, once fully implemented, would raise nearly $200 million more each year than the current slots-only program and direct the money toward education. Critics point out that lawmakers would be free to cut other education spending, wiping out any gains.
Question 7 has to win both statewide and in Prince George's County for the sixth casino to open. If it wins statewide but loses in the county, table games would be permitted at the five currently licensed slots sites.
If the measure loses statewide, table games won't be allowed anywhere.
'We would love to stay here'
Brown was born in Houston, works for a McLean, Va.-based law firm and travels regularly into Washington for work. Her husband is an information specialist who works in Montgomery County. They have two children.
While Brown, a congregant of the nondenominational Heart Church Ministries, does not stress religion as the reason for her opposition, it is a factor.
"Definitely, my faith would be the basic foundation," she said.
Built on that foundation is her feeling about the county where she lives. Brown believes Prince George's should be a place where people such as herself and her husband can build professional careers.