Prince George's slots bill faces State House fight

Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

A bill that would allow casino gambling in Prince George's County faces an uphill battle in the Maryland House of Delegates after county lawmakers voiced disappointment in the legislation.

The bill, which would place a referendum to allow slots and table games in the county on the November ballot, should easily pass the state Senate thanks to the support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's/Calvert.

But it will take the support of County Executive Rushern Baker to guide it through the House, according to Miller and state Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, who introduced the bill Monday night.

"It's not my bill and for it to pass, it has to be supported by the county executive, the County Council, and the delegations from both chambers," Miller said. House Speaker Michael Busch has historically opposed slot machines in the state.

Baker declined to comment on the bill Monday afternoon.

Slots and table games would be allowed at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington or National Harbor in Oxon Hill, according to the bill.

Prince George's County officials are unhappy the bill ties funding for a new hospital to the casino revenues.

Baker told the Prince George's County House delegation more than three weeks ago that a new regional medical center, designed to replace the dilapidated Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, could be built without revenue from slots.

But the bill dedicates 2.5 percent of slot revenues to an account set aside for the development and construction of the planned $600 million hospital.

"A bill that has those provisions are contrary to what the county executive has said," said Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George's.

Del. Doyle Niemann, D-Prince George's, said the hospital is critical to revitalize the struggling health care system now serving much of southern Maryland. Linking the hospital to casinos is just a political ploy to bring slots to Prince George's, he said.

Just having legislation introduced is a step forward for Penn National Gaming, which bought the bankrupt Rosecroft last year with the intention of bringing casino-style gambling to the horse track. Spokesman Eric Schippers said Penn National hopes the track will get the opportunity to be the sixth authorized gaming site in the state.

Officials with the Peterson Cos., owner of the National Harbor, declined to comment.

"We believe this is a decision for our elected officials," said spokeswoman Angela Sweeney.

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