MGM to open information center at National Harbor

MGM Resorts International will open a visitor center at National Harbor next week as part of its campaign to win approval to build a "destination" casino at the site on the Potomac River.

The international casino and entertainment company said it will open a storefront center along the mixed-use development's main drag to offer visitors information about its plans, which will likely be decided in a referendum on gambling in November.

The company has spent an estimated $5.4 million on television ads and other efforts in its battle to win approval of Question 7, which will ask voters whether Maryland should allow a new casino in Prince George's County and table games at all sites.

MGM, the largest casino operator in Las Vegas, and National Harbor's developer, Milt Peterson, see a lucrative opportunity in National Harbor — a site that can capture potential gamblers in the affluent Washington market and its tourists.

Peterson said Tuesday that he would commit $400,000 to the drive for ballot approval.

Rival casino operator Penn National Gaming, which has matched MGM virtually dollar for dollar, has ample reason to oppose Question 7. While the Pennsylvania-based company is eligible to apply for a casino license for its Rosecroft Raceway near National Harbor, the company believes the process is tilted in favor of the National Harbor site, which is favored by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.

Penn National is also concerned that a National Harbor casino could cut into earnings at the casino it runs at Charles Town, W. Va., which draws many customers from the Washington region.

Gordon Absher, a spokesman for MGM, said the purpose of the visitor center is to provide local residents and National Harbor visitors with information about the company.

"This is not a campaign office, this is an MGM Resorts office. We are here to introduce our company to the community," he said.

Absher said MGM derives more than 60 percent of its revenues from sources other than gambling. He said the proposed project at National Harbor would provide jobs for chefs, attorneys, engineers and spa therapists as well as card dealers and bartenders.

"We're in the destination resort business," he said. The office is expected to be open Monday after a ceremonial ribbon-cutting Thursday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

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