Baker faces struggle for casino at National Harbor

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker faces a long battle over his plan to put a Las Vegas-style casino on the Potomac River, with opposition ranging from local religious and community leaders to protests from sites throughout the state where casinos are already planned.

Baker's gamble for a $1 billion casino at National Harbor could bring in roughly $50 million in annual tax revenue for Prince George's -- about $29 million in gambling revenue and another $20 million from local property and amusement taxes, according to estimates from his administration.

Legislation to bring gambling to Prince George's County by a statewide referendum still must pass the General Assembly.

Baker promised to reinvest all gambling revenue in the county to help ease some of the social ills that have residents and the county's clergy in an uproar. New revenue also could help address the county's foreclosure crisis and spur economic development.

But casinos rarely live up to the hype, according to William Cavitt, president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council.

"We've heard all the rosy scenarios," said Cavitt, who has lived near National Harbor for more than three decades. "You'd think the creation of a casino would somehow convert Prince George's into a land of milk and honey."

Some competing casinos in the state are opposed to the prospect of another gambling location chipping away at their revenues. The Cordish Cos., which is building a slots casino about 30 miles away at Arundel Mills mall, is against adding any gambling sites in Maryland.

But companies still bidding for slots licenses support the bill, which would allow table games like blackjack and craps at all Maryland casinos. Officials with Caesars Entertainment, a part of a group of companies applying for a slots license in Baltimore, said that lowering tax rates on slots machines and adding table games would be a boon for casinos trying to compete with venues from Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Baker, however, does not have local leaders convinced of the merits of slots and table games. Gerron Levi, a former Prince George's County delegate who has organized an online petition against slots, said it's troubling how rapidly developers at National Harbor have shifted from plans for a Disney-themed resort to plans for a Las Vegas-style casino.

It's unlikely Baker's vision of a casino on the Potomac River will get through the General Assembly, Levi said.

"This just gets him into the debate, and I believe he will settle for a lot less," she said.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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Ben Giles

Staff Writer - Crime Beat
The Washington Examiner