Gaming spending ramps up as election nears

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Spending in the Maryland gambling fight surged past $60 million as both sides poured in money with less than two weeks to go until Election Day.

MGM Resorts International, which would operate a planned casino at National Harbor if the gambling expansion passes, added $8 million more to bring its contributions to nearly $29.5 million. Caesars Entertainment, which is set to operate a new Baltimore casino, has added $3.4 million, while the developer of National Harbor, the Peterson Cos., has contributed $1.25 million in support of the expansion.

On the other side, Penn National Gaming has contributed more than $29.1 million to defeat the measure, which would allow table games and round-the-clock operation at in-state casinos, in addition to adding a new Prince George's County facility. Penn operates casinos in West Virginia and Perryville, Md.

For Maryland Jobs and Schools, the committee supporting gambling expansion, has coupled its ad blitz with a few high-profile endorsements. Former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington and former Ravens offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden both cut commercials for the committee, the latter appearing with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Committee spokeswoman Kristen Hawn said that Penn was only throwing money in to protect its "cash cow" in West Virginia. "They don't care about Maryland schools. They don't care about Maryland jobs. They just care about Maryland money," she said in a statement.

A new casino won't be built, however, unless a majority of voters in Prince George's County vote in favor of expansion on the November ballot. With this in mind, local activist organizations and church groups opposed to expansion are planning a series of rallies up until Election Day.

"We don't have the deep pockets the casino companies do," said Arthur Turner, president of the Coalition of Central Prince George's County Community Organizations. "We want to take it to the streets."

An independent survey of Prince George's voters, released last week by Clarity Campaign Labs, shows that 47 percent of respondents support gambling expansion. Just 35 percent of respondents oppose the expansion, while 17 percent are undecided.

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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