Thousands of slot machines at the new Maryland Live! Casino drew throngs of people who wanted to test their luck in the first days the Anne Arundel County emporium was open.
Prince George's County officials want a piece of those profitable gamblers, too, sparking a feud between the two counties as county officials try to convince a state panel to expand Maryland's casinos and gambling options beyond those approved by voters in 2008.
County Executive Rushern Baker argues allowing a Las Vegas-style casino at National Harbor would provide a lucrative new revenue stream for both Prince George's and the state, bringing in an estimated $279 million in taxes.
Overall, a Potomac River casino could increase state revenue from gambling by $54.3 million by fiscal 2016, according to analysts for the Peterson Cos., which has proposed an investment of more than $750 million in a luxury casino at National Harbor.
The report predictably contradicts estimates by Cordish Cos., the developer of Maryland Live!, which says an unexpected casino to the south in Prince George's County would cut into roughly 40 percent of its gambling market.
At Wednesday's grand opening at Maryland Live!, Del. Frank Turner, D-Howard, scoffed at the reliability of reports that the gambling commission has received from groups with stakes in the game.
Lawmakers are waiting for the first truly independent study of possible gambling scenarios, an analysis from PricewaterhouseCoopers, scheduled to be presented to the work group Tuesday.
"It's critically important," said Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute. "If [the state Department of] Legislative Services says these numbers are the most objective, unbiased projections we can point to, then the report will have a lot of credibility and carry a lot of weight in the decisions of legislative leaders and in the minds of the rank-and-file politicians."
But lawmakers who approve a gambling expansion bill may have a hard time explaining themselves to taxpayers, even though taxpayers themselves will be the ones to make the decision through a voter referendum.
The proposal would give casino operators a greater share of casino revenues, an extra 15 percent, and shrink the state's portion, a move that could irk Marylanders who watched lawmakers vote to raise income taxes little over a month ago, Bergsman said.
Some lawmakers doubt whether the proposal has the necessary votes in the House, given it would reduce the state's revenue.
That would leave some gamblers at Maryland Live! longing for more options at the casino. Several patrons, including Laurel resident Larry Ziegler, on Friday said they hope lawmakers can pass legislation that would allow table games, such as blackjack and roulette, at casinos,
"It's just unfortunate that the delegates don't have the [spine] to pass something the people want," he said.