Four years after leading the way in a previous fight against slots legislation by the Maryland General Assembly, Kevin McGhee and the Laurel Clergy Association are taking casino gambling on again.
With a pair of bills in the General Assembly—SB 892 and HB 1265—proposing to create a massive 4,750-terminal slots casino somewhere inPrince George's County, the Laurel Clergy stepped up after its Feb. 29 meeting to announce its opposition to the proposed legislation.
"We have for many years unanimously opposed the state sponsorship of gambling in Maryland in all forms," the LCA said in a statement following the meeting. "Today, we particularly call on … all our elected leaders to eliminatePrince George's Countyfrom consideration as a possible venue for this destructive industry."
In a Feb. 22 hearing for the bill, Prince George's CountyExecutive Rushern Baker III backed a plan that would create a $1 billion development at National Harbor complete with slots and, pending state legislation allowing them, table games.
Representatives of Penn National Gaming have also suggested the idea of placing the slots casino at Rosecroft raceway, which is owned by Penn National. In November, thePrince George's County Council voted 5-4 to table a bill that would have banned slot machines at Rosecroft.
Former Del. Gerron Levi, who previously represented South Laurel in her time in the General Assembly, earlier announced her efforts to combat the bills through a petition drive. As of Monday afternoon, Levi said she had collected 381 signatures supporting the fight online, and was counting the signatures collected at various church's supporting her drive.
"We expect the legislature to vote later this month on SB 892," she said. "We plan to continue to push and we will deliver all the petitions soon."
For its part, the LCA slammed slots as a "predatory practice" and worried that the bills would place "the government in the position of encouraging a dangerous addiction" that the state would have to budget additional money to treat at a time when the state is already financially strained.
"The need to adequately fund our schools, hospitals and other vital services are far too important to depend on such an unstable source of funding," the LCA stated.
Dernoga: Legislation is 'short-sighted'
Former Prince George's County Council member Tom Dernoga, of West Laurel, said he is also opposed to the legislation, which he called "short-sighted," and said his position hasn't changed from four years ago.
"They're swinging for the fences when … a longer, steady building strategy is needed," he said. "This is a boom-or-bust strategy."
Dernoga said that while he is opposed to slots legislation, he has not joined any organization in campaigning against the slots legislation, but rather will offer analysis and advice to anyone approaching him for his stance on the matter.
Dernoga said that the county should look to make "incremental" developments, rather than focusing on the "easy way out" with a massive development built around a casino. He suggested that county leaders should, instead, focus on trying to lure some of the already existing business in the area to the county.
"You look at the I-270 corridor, and it's lined with the offices of financial, biotechnology and defense companies that bring in condos, high-end shopping and high end developments," he said. "Instead we're re-zoning for strip malls."
The Laurel Clergy Association echoed that sentiment in its statement.
"We would much prefer to see Prince George's County continue on a path to become a center of high technology and upscale retail establishments than to have the low-paying jobs and many attendant problems that are an inevitable part of the gaming industry," it stated.
For its part, the LCA is still in "wait and see" mode regarding its next move, said McGhee, who is president of the LCA. He noted that with the casinos fighting each other—the owners of the planned casinos in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore city are fighting both bills—the LCA is using the time to examine its options in determining its next step.
"We've been in contact with the pastors of some other large churches in the center part of the county that share our concerns," McGhee said. "So if a full-court press does become necessary, we'll be ready."