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Anti-gambling groups say P.G. residents are being 'bamboozled'

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Anti-gambling groups rallied against a proposed expansion of gambling in Maryland in Upper Marlboro on Tuesday as the Washington Redskins joined the advocates of a casino in Prince George's County.

Clad in matching white shirts and waving signs, the crowd braved a light rain outside the county administration building as church leaders and community organizers spoke at length against the ballot initiative that likely would bring a casino to National Harbor if approved by Maryland voters on Nov. 6.

"If indeed a casino comes to Prince George's County, the owners win and the residents lose," pastor Jonathan Weaver told the crowd, calling the initiative a "David and Goliath" fight.

From a corporate standpoint, though, things seem to be more Goliath and Goliath.

Casino owners and developers have thrown more than $34 million into the battle over gambling expansion in Maryland. Penn National Gaming, owner of casinos in West Virginia and Perryville, has contributed more than $18 million in its advertising campaign against the expansion, while MGM Resorts International, which would operate the planned casino at National Harbor, has contributed $11.4 million to support the expansion. Caesars Entertainment, which would operate the Baltimore casino, has chipped in $3.4 million on the pro-gambling side.

Meanwhile, the Redskins announced their support of Question 7, joining nine companies that do business at National Harbor. Each of the nine donated $250 to the campaign -- drops in the Potomac River compared with the money the casino operators are spending.

"Question 7 isn't just about slot machines and gambling tables -- it's about opportunities," Javier Torres, president and CEO of the Corporate Group, said at a rally at National Harbor. "Opportunities for many of us in this neighborhood to go out and get jobs."

For the dozens of opponents at Tuesday's rally, though, these job opportunities are a false promise. Arthur Turner, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's County Community Organizations, said the county doesn't have residents with casino experience, meaning they will be able to get only part-time jobs that can't support a family.

"If it's really good, why don't they have it in Montgomery County? Why don't they have it in Howard County?" Turner said.

Another theme was the prospect of more education spending thanks to casino revenue. While state budget analysts have said that money put in the state's Education Trust Fund would increase by $174.5 million by fiscal 2017 thanks to gambling profits, they also project that the state will reduce the amount of money spent on education from the general fund.

"People are yet again being bamboozled," said Ruth Wright, who runs Prince George's Real Estate Agents for Change.

Many ralliers brought up New Jersey, Nevada and Mississippi as states where casino expansion hasn't helped residents. They challenged Question 7 supporters to find a successful model.

"They have gambling in Utopia," Turner said. "Show me where that is."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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