Prince George's bill would ban slots

A Prince George's County Council member, hoping to keep slots out of the county, introduced a bill Tuesday that would ban the gambling devices.

The proposal comes just weeks after Rosecroft Raceway was reopened by its new owner, Penn National Gaming, which wants to offer slots and perhaps poker and other table games at the Fort Washington track. Proponents say Rosecroft, which went bankrupt and closed in 2010, cannot survive on horse racing alone. But many local leaders opposed bringing slots to Prince George's when they were authorized in other Maryland counties in 2008.


The sponsor of the bill, council member Eric Olson, said slots still are not a good fit for Prince George's. "Having slots in the county doesn't make sense," Olson, D-College Park, said before he introduced the bill. "We have record foreclosures … slots could take from people in vulnerable economic positions."

Olson's bill, which the council is expected to take up in the next few weeks, could put County Executive Rushern L. Baker III in a complicated position. Baker, a Democrat who opposed slots when he was a member of the General Assembly, is lukewarm about bringing them to Rosecroft. "It wouldn't be my first priority," he said. "I think there are other things we can do. But I also know the state is looking for revenue."


Supporters of slots at Rosecroft say the gambling would fuel the economic development that Baker has made a priority since taking office almost a year ago. But Olson said that such efforts should translate into "sustainable" development, not slots.

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Rosecroft is in an area of Prince George's County that officials are eager to redevelop. It is a few miles from National Harbor, a new community on the Potomac River that has brought new restaurants and a convention-sized hotel, as well as residences, to the county.

Since January, when Penn National agreed to pay $10.2 million for Rosecroft and to resume harness racing and off-track betting there, gambling proponents have been pressing for slots to be expanded to Prince George's. Five sites, including one in Anne Arundel County, are authorized for slots. Adding Prince George's or adding other table games would require the approval of the General Assembly and a referendum. Penn National, which co-owns Laurel Park, also wants to put slots at that track.

Maryland State Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, who represents a sliver of Prince George's and whose family built Rosecroft in the 1940s, has been pushing for slots. Some Prince George's lawmakers who had previously opposed them are said to be reconsidering their positions. And there have been hints from Annapolis that the county would need to accept slots as a condition of obtaining millions of dollars in state aid to build a new regional hospital center.

Eric Schippers, senior vice president for Penn National, said company officials were disappointed by Olson's bill, which is backed by council members William A. Campos, D-Hyattsville, and Andrea Harrison, D-Springdale. Schippers said that adding slots to Rosecroft would create jobs and bring "significant new economic development for Prince George's County."

"The viability of Rosecroft is dependent on having slots at the facility," Schippers said.

William H. Cavitt, a community activist who lives near the track, said that slots will harm, not help, the surrounding neighborhoods and will lower property values.

In 2007, Penn National dropped its bid for Rosecroft when it did not win a designation as one of five Maryland sites for slot machines. Besides Laurel Park, Penn National co-owns Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and owns Hollywood Casino Perryville, the first slots parlor to open in Maryland.