Will Las Vegas come to the Potomac?

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker is betting big: Place Las Vegas' famed Bellagio casino along the Potomac River and reap the benefits of what could be the most profitable gambling resort in the state.

Baker announced Thursday that he will support legislation to bring slots and table games such as blackjack to Prince George's County, but only as a $1 billion development at National Harbor matching the grand scale of Las Vegas' finest casinos.

Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington has been discussed as a potential casino site in Prince George's, but Baker's administration determined the best location would be National Harbor. The convention destination has the transportation infrastructure already in place to handle an estimated six million annual visitors and earn an estimated $309.5 million annually in state and county taxes, according to an analysis by Business Researchers and Economic Advisors commissioned by Baker.

Rolling the dice
If these amendments to legislation that would add gambling in Prince George's County aren't met, County Executive Rushern Baker said he won't support a casino in Prince George's County:
• Must ensure a high quality, billion-dollar resort destination.
• Can be located only at National Harbor.
• Local revenue shares from gambling and county taxes must be at least $50 million.
• Revenue must go toward economic development, housing market stabilization, and local nonprofits.
• Must require a local vote for approval.

"A destination that has the ability to attract people from not only the region, but from around the country, is the model that makes sense for Prince George's County," said Brad Frome, Baker's deputy chief of staff. "And the place where this model can succeed is at National Harbor."

The Cordish Cos., developer of a slots casino about 30 miles away at Arundel Mills mall in Anne Arundel County, said it is against any expansion of gambling sites in Maryland.

Competing sites in Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Baltimore could have a combined 13,250 slot machines, including 4,750 at National Harbor.

"Under the proposed legislation, Maryland would have gone from no gaming to among the highest saturation of slots in the country," said Joe Weinberg, Cordish's president of gaming. "Maryland would have three casinos larger than any casino in Atlantic City or Las Vegas."

The legislation to add gambling in Prince George's County -- introduced by Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters -- would allow a casino at the Rosecroft harness-racing track. Penn National Gaming bought Rosecroft out of bankruptcy last summer, and officials have made it clear the track won't survive without slots revenue. But Baker, who is adding amendments to the bill, is opposed to a Rosecroft casino.

"He wants it sole-sourced to National Harbor, which I think is going to be a deal-killer," Peters said. "There needs to be that competition between multiple sites to get the best deal."

Any bill to add table games in the state or to add any slots locations beyond the five approved by Maryland voters in 2008 would require a voter referendum in November.

Though his demands are steep, political analysts say Baker's opinion is important for Prince George's County lawmakers.

"I'm sure that the county executive's position on a bill is always a significant consideration for a county legislative delegation," said Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute. "Not always decisive, but certainly important."

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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Ben Giles

Staff Writer - Crime Beat
The Washington Examiner