Harford executive seeks a casino

Harford County Executive David Craig says he wants the county to be considered as a future casino gambling site.

Craig sent a letter Monday to the chairman of the governor's recently appointed work group to consider gaming expansion that was created in the wake of last month's Maryland General Assembly special session in an effort to break the logjam over passage of the state budget. The panel will be looking at possible future gaming sites beyond the five approved in 2008, as well as allowing table games in addition to slots.

In the letter to John Morton III, who is also chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, Craig said having a casino in Harford would generate "tens of millions of dollars annually in new revenue" for both the state and his county, and he pledged to use Harford's share to pay for teacher pension obligations and for the construction and renovation of school buildings.

He also said in the letter, published in its entirety on Page A14, he is willing to put the question to referendum and let the county's voters decide if they want casino gambling.

Harford was briefly under consideration for one of the first round of slots casinos in the statewide gaming legislation passed in 2007 that voters subsequently adopted as a constitutional amendment in November 2008. Local legislators, however, were generally not interested in having a casino in Harford, and local elected officials, Craig included, didn't do much lobbying for one, either.

Instead, Cecil County was included, with the blessing of legislators who represent both counties, and the first casino to open in the state was Hollywood Casino Perryville, which has generated millions of dollars in revenue for Cecil County and the Town of Perryville in the nearly 21 months it has been open.

"Although I have never been a strong believer in balancing one's budget through gaming revenue, the magnitude of the teacher pension shift warrants that we consider all options," Craig wrote in Monday's letter. "This is one of a number of solutions that should be examined to mitigate the impact of this state action on the taxpayers that we serve."

Craig also said he does not foresee a problem of having two casinos so close.

"While you may have concerns due to our proximity to the existing casino in Perryville, I feel that having two first rate gaming facilities in the area will make the Upper Chesapeake region a tourism hub, and will allow Maryland to better compete with Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey for regional visitors," he wrote.

Craig, a Republican who is expected to run for governor in 2014, sent copies of his letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. President Thomas "Mike" Miller, House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch and Harford's delegates and senators.

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