Money for Md. gambling campaign exceeds that spent in 2010 governor's race

With seven weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election, special interests with a stake in the gambling referendum have raised more than the amount spent by candidates in Maryland's last governor's race.

With the addition of $3 million by MGM Resorts International, reported in a filing Tuesday with the state elections board, companies seeking to promote or scuttle a casino in Prince George's County have amassed $19.4 million.

Of that, the opposing sides have spent $16.8 million, nearly equaling the $17 million spent in the 2010 contest between Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and it seems likely that spending could surpass $20 million within weeks.

James Browning, Mid-Atlantic director of the watchdog group Common Cause, said the spending reflects the pattern of the past decade. "It's come down to casino vs. casino," he said. "The voices who have been drowned out are the people who don't want gambling at all."

MGM, the prospective operator of a casino at National Harbor in Prince George's County, has ponied up $8.4 million in its battle for approval of Question 7. Penn National Gaming reported last week that it had raised $9.5 million for its campaign against Question 7, in which voters will decide whether to uphold the gambling expansion legislation passed during a special session of the General Assembly last month.

Also kicking in on the pro-casino side were Caesars Entertainment, with $1.25 million, and the Peterson Cos. with $400,000. An affiliate of Caesars has been awarded the license for a casino in Baltimore, while Peterson is the developer of National Harbor. Caesars is supporting the referendum because the legislation would give existing licensees, as well as a new Prince George's casino, permission to offer table games.

The legislation approved during the four-day special session put the issue of table games and a new casino on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, new disclosure reports show that spending to influence the General Assembly during the special session totaled roughly $5 million.

Reports detailing more than $1.3 million in pro- and anti-casino spending were filed late Monday or arrived by mail Tuesday at the Maryland Ethics Commission. That spending is in addition to more than $3.6 million reported by the close of business Monday. Further reports could straggle in, as disclosures from lobbyists known to have represented gambling industry clients had not arrived Tuesday.

Penn National reported spending more than $1 million, the bulk of it on the services of a Washington public affairs firm, DCI Group LLC.

The spending amounts to less than half that reported by the Washington Building and Construction Trades Council. The labor-affiliated group has spent $2.7 million to finance a pro-casino media campaign, with about $592,000 of it coming from the Peterson Cos.

Also reporting were lobbyists who worked for Caesars Entertainment and its local affiliate. Together, they collected about $123,000.

The spending disclosures on the special session included both media purchases to influence legislators and the cost of hiring lobbyists for the special session.

"That's a hell of a four-day binge," Browning said of the spending. "In a way, it's the last 10 years in microcosm."

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