Caesars says it's true to Baltimore

Executives of Caesars Entertainment, the leading bidder for a slots parlor in Baltimore, gave lawmakers explicit assurances Friday that their company will not abandon the city for Prince George's County if the General Assembly approves a casino there.

But a rival casino company described the Caesars position as "nonsensical."

The exchange came after Baltimore lawmakers fired questions at Caesars executives during a city delegation meeting in Annapolis, with some expressing doubt about the company's motives for supporting an expansion of gambling in Maryland.

At issue is Caesars' support for legislation that would allow a sixth casino in Maryland — possibly a gambling palace at the riverside National Harbor complex near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Prince George's County — that some lawmakers believe would siphon business from the long-delayed gambling location planned for Baltimore.

That legislation would compensate the state's two existing slots operators and the three sites in the pipeline by letting them expand their gambling offerings to table games such as poker, roulette and craps. The same legislation would lower the state's share of the gambling take in an effort to keep the businesses attractive to operators.

While Caesars has not yet been awarded the license for the downtown Baltimore location, it is the only viable applicant now in the running. But some city lawmakers fear the international casino company has been seduced by Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker's vision of a world-class gambling and entertainment resort at National Harbor.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Democrat from Baltimore, was among those questioning why Caesars would support another location so close to the city.

Trevor Busche, Caesars' vice president for corporate development, told the House Ways and Means Committee that his company remains true to Baltimore.

"We are not pursuing any opportunity in Prince George's County — whether at National Harbor or elsewhere," Busche said.

In response to a reporter's question after his testimony, Busche said the company would be open to language in the bill that would exclude a pending applicant from seeking a Prince George's license.

A bill to allow gambling in Prince George's is being opposed by the Baltimore region's other slots operator, the Cordish Cos., which is planning to open the state's largest gambling venue so far at Arundel Mills in June.

Joe Weinberg, a spokesman for Cordish, said his company believes Caesars' stand is "nonsensical."

"Why don't you explain to me how any intelligent company, when asked whether they prefer table games with or without the addition of a massive new competitive site, selects the competition?" Weinberg said.

The Cordish spokesman said the company supports legislation to permit table games, but only at the five casino locations now allowed in Maryland: Arundel Mills, Baltimore, Perryville, Ocean Downs near Ocean City and Rocky Gap outside Cumberland.

Busche made his promise after running into skepticism from Baltimore-area lawmakers in both the delegation meeting and the committee hearing, where the Ways and Means panel was considering a bill that would open the door to a Prince George's casino.

Caesars representatives told delegates the company supports the legislation and encouraged them to adopt further safeguards for Baltimore, which it called "our financial partner" at the downtown site.

Meanwhile, Baker said Prince George's has no interest in luring Caesars away from Baltimore to become the operators of the $1 billion casino-entertainment center he envisions as an international draw to the site on the Potomac. He said he has been working with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to ensure that both sites are a financial success.

"It is important to me that Baltimore City and Anne Arundel are held as harmless as possible," he said.

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