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Slots panel to hear from developer

A legislative panel that is studying whether Maryland should legalize slot machines will hear next week from developers of a $2 billion hotel, office and entertainment complex in Prince George's County that is seen by some as a potential site for a full-scale resort casino.

The developers of National Harbor, being built on the Potomac River just off the Washington Beltway, were asked to appear before the House Ways and Means Committee to talk about their project as part of a hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Prince George's Community College.

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Also invited to testify is U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat, who has said he favors "destination resort casinos" instead of the slots-at-racetracks-only plan that failed in the last legislative session.

He said a full-scale casino with table games and other amenities would generate far more money for state and local government and create more jobs than slots at tracks.

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But a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that Ehrlich remains firmly opposed to full-scale casinos.

"We don't support full-fledged casinos," said Paul Schurick, the spokesman. "The governor supports a slot machine program in Maryland, and he believes that slots are best [situated] at racetracks."

Wynn said opening the door to two or three full-scale casinos would let the state put licenses out for bid and permit greater opportunities for minority businesses to participate.

"The track owners are largely from out of state," Wynn said. "Why are they the ones who just get, as a gift, this big economic benefit?"

Wynn suggested that tracks could be provided a different state license that would entitle them to a limited number of slots.

National Harbor is potentially an ideal site but other sites in Prince George's and elsewhere, including Baltimore's Inner Harbor, also would be suitable, Wynn said.

If National Harbor received a license for a casino, it likely would doom any potential slots development at nearby Rosecroft Raceway harness track.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee are scheduled to tour the track Tuesday, before the public hearing at Prince George's Community College.

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Andre Gingles, a lawyer and spokesman for National Harbor, said company representatives plan to talk about their project, not slots. The project is being developed by The Peterson Companies, based in Fairfax, Va.

He said plans for the site include 4,000 hotel rooms and a variety of retail, dining, entertainment and commercial office facilities.

"We are not going there to make any presentation with regard to slots," Gingles said. "We're there because members of the committee ... thought it was an opportune time to get background information on National Harbor."

Gingles wouldn't say how the developers would respond if state officials proposed locating a casino at the site.

Donna F. Edwards, a Fort Washington resident and community leader who opposes the National Harbor project, said the project's developers clearly want slots.

"It absolutely has to do with slots," Edwards said. "The Peterson Companies want to pull a fast one over the voters of Maryland, and it's not going to play."


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