Playing the last hand of the week in a round of bidding for the rights to build a casino in Prince George's County, MGM Resorts said Friday that the merits of its $925 million resort next to the Capital Beltway trump the others.
Its ace in the hole is a location on a hill above the Potomac River at National Harbor, said Jim Murren, MGM's chairman and CEO.
"We have never seen a site more perfectly tailored," said Murren during a site visit Friday by members of the state's Video Lottery Facility Location Commission.
The commission is considering three bids for the state's sixth and final casino and expects to award a license by year's end.
On Monday, Penn National Gaming proposed a $700 million Hollywood casino facility at its Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington and promised an added $320 million for the county's health and education systems. On Wednesday, Greenwood Racing proposed a $761 million Parx casino nearby with as much as $100 million more to help pay for needed improvements to the road leading to the casino.
MGM offered no incentives beyond its plans for a landmark resort, instead focusing on the amenities and potential economic impact. MGM officials said their project would invest more in the state and create more revenue and jobs than its competitors. MGM projected revenue of $650 million by the third year of operations.
The casino would offer 3,600 slots and 140 table games, including poker. A 300-suite, 21-story hotel and spa — inspired by the Washington Monument — would tower over the resort, which would feature seven restaurants, a 1,200-seat theater, 35,000 square feet of event space and parking for 5,000 vehicles.
MGM officials touted their brand's international appeal, saying the National Harbor location would draw 70 percent of its customer base from outside Maryland, including high rollers from places such as Hong Kong.
The project would create an estimated 7,500 jobs, MGM officials said, with 4,000 of those directly at the resort.
"This is a jewel. This is a source of pride for the community," Murren said.
Some residents adamantly opposed the MGM proposal.
Joyce Thorpe, a resident and volunteer with the Campaign to Reinvest in the Heart of Oxon Hill, condemned the MGM proposal as a project that would add to what she said has been National Harbor's terrible record of community engagement. Large events there gridlock traffic and hurt the neighborhood, she said, and the casino would add to the negative impact.
"National Harbor is the worst neighbor we have ever had," she said. "National Horror or Nightmare Harbor, we call it."
Jacqueline Goodall, the mayor of nearby Forest Heights, said her constituents prefer to see a casino go to Rosecroft instead of in "the middle of a vibrant neighborhood" near National Harbor.
Each of the proposals would bring jobs, Goodall said, so approval of a location should not be based on such economic factors. "Regardless of where you build it, they will come," she said.
She was not impressed by the lack of incentives for the community offered by MGM, calling its proposal "a casino that stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars yet has offered nothing of substance for this community here today."
Del. Barbara Frush, a sponsor of the legislation to allow a casino in Prince George's County, spoke in support of the project, saying her "vision has been met by MGM."
"Not only has it been met, it has been surpassed," she said.
Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state commission, said it will decide based on which of the three proposals would bring the most benefit to the state and to the state's gambling industry as a whole.
"We have to be cognizant that there are five other facilities," he said.
The potential impact of the Prince George's location on other casinos in Maryland, including Maryland Live in Anne Arundel County and the Horseshoe Casino rising in Baltimore, will be examined, Fry said.
A public hearing on MGM's plans drew a large crowd, including 75 people who signed up to speak. Among them were members of the Unite Here Local 25 union who work at the Gaylord Hotel at National Harbor. John Boardman, the local's executive secretary, said the union supports MGM because it promises the best pay and health benefits in the industry.
MGM officials said average pay and benefits for its full-time employees — which would make up about 80 percent of the 4,000 employed — is more than $50,000.
Also, because MGM is proposing only 300 hotel rooms, visitors to the casino would stay at the Gaylord, which has 2,000 rooms, Boardman said.
"MGM gets it," Boardman said of the company's commitment to union labor.
Also on Friday, MGM announced that Radio One founder Cathy Hughes and her son had signed a letter of intent to invest $40 million in the casino, becoming the largest minority investors.
Three bids for Prince George's County casino
BiddersMGM ResortsPenn National GamingGreenwood Racing
The Evening Sun
Investment$925 million$700 million$761 million
Community investmentnone$320 million$100 million