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Gambling fight hits $72m in spending as Election Day nears

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

Casino companies are pouring even more money into the fight over gambling expansion in Maryland as the two sides prepare for the homestretch before Tuesday's vote.

Total spending over Question 7, which would allow table games, round-the-clock operation and a casino in Prince George's County, hit $72 million Wednesday with less than a week to go before Election Day.

Penn National Gaming brought its total contributions to more than $35.5 million against Question 7 -- up from $29.1 million just a week ago. Penn operates a casino in West Virginia that draws many Maryland residents, as well as a slots palace in Perryville, Md., near the Delaware border.

Chipping in
Penn National Gaming $35.5 million
MGM Resorts International $29.5 million
Caesars Entertainment $4.6 million
Peterson Cos. $2 million

On the other side, MGM Resorts International has chipped in nearly $29.5 million. MGM likely would operate a planned casino at National Harbor if Question 7 passes. Caesars Entertainment, which is set to operate a new Baltimore casino, has added nearly $4.6 million, while the developer of National Harbor, the Peterson Cos., has contributed more than $2 million to support the expansion.

(See sample ballots for Montgomery and Prince George's counties)

Total spending is more than double that of the 2006 governor's race in which Democrat Martin O'Malley unseated Republican Bob Ehrlich. That race was the previous record-holder in Maryland, costing about $34 million.

The pro-gambling committee, For Maryland Jobs and Schools, is looking to capitalize on its bevy of endorsements -- from the local AFL-CIO to the Washington Redskins -- in the final week, said spokeswoman Kristen Hawn.

"The focus is working with all of the different groups, including the police, the firefighters, the unions and the elected officials to support our campaign to get out the vote," she said. "We're looking at events almost every single day."

Kevin McLaughlin, a spokesman for the anti-expansion committee Get the Facts - Vote No On 7, said the campaign would push its get-out-the-vote efforts.

"We have run a very traditional campaign," he said. "It'll be comprehensive, it'll be grass roots-oriented and it'll be focused statewide."

Much of Get the Facts' criticism has focused on the amount of revenue the expansion will bring in and how much of it will actually go toward education.

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, who has campaigned extensively for gambling, responded to opponents Wednesday on WTOP. "Penn National has done a great job of changing the issue and trying to use a Trojan horse," he said. "The government is saying this is good for Maryland against a private company that's saying it's not."

At least one prominent official from Prince George's, though, is breaking from that line. Democratic U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards says gambling expansion is a poor way to increase revenue.

"Question 7 is not the answer for Prince George's County," Edwards said in an email. "We need a laser focus on smart growth around our county's 15 Metro stations to create jobs in the infrastructure, technology and energy sectors to generate the revenue needed to meet our shared goals for education and opportunity for all."

An independent poll released by Goucher College this week showed 50 percent of respondents supporting gambling expansion, with 44 percent opposed. The poll surveyed 667 Maryland residents from Oct. 21 to Oct. 25.

"Nearly 90 percent of Marylanders indicated they have seen the Question 7 ads," said Mileah Kromer, the director of Goucher's Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center. "It's just amazing the amount of money the opponents and proponents are pushing into Maryland."

Previous polls have shown less support for Question 7. A Baltimore Sun poll released Oct. 27 showed voters opposing gambling expansion 54 percent to 39 percent, while a Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies poll released Sept. 26 found voters opposing expansion 46 percent to 45 percent.

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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