MGM Resorts International announced Friday that it is committed to bringing a high-end casino to National Harbor — if it can get the right deal.
“If we’re wanted, we’re all in,” James J. Murren, chairman and chief executive officer of MGM, told reporters outside the State House in Annapolis, following morning meetings with Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).
O’Malley and lawmakers are weighing whether to expand Maryland’s gambling program to add a full-fledged casino in Prince George’s County — most likely at National Harbor — and allow Las Vegas-style table games at the state’s five previously authorized slots sites.
O’Malley told reporters that he still is interested in holding a special session the week of July 9. Much remains to be worked out before then — including several provisions that could lead MGM to fold on what was advertised Friday as an $800 million project.
Chief among those is the tax rate that would be imposed on a Prince George’s casino. Maryland currently has among the highest tax rates in the nation, taking 67 percent of casino proceeds.
Murren called that figure “egregiously high,” suggesting a rate of 52 percent would be more reasonable.
That rate was included in a Senate-backed bill that died in the House of Delegates in April, on the final night of the legislature’s 90-day session. A work group launched by O’Malley is now revisiting the legislation, however, and looking more closely at what an appropriate rate should be if a sixth casino is added to Maryland’s market.
Some leading lawmakers, including House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), have warned it could be politically difficult to convene a special session in which tax rates on casino owners are cut, particularly since the General Assembly just raised income taxes on Marylanders making six figures or more.
Some lawmakers have also voiced sympathy for the position of Maryland Live!, a casino that opened this month in Anne Arundel County that stands to lose the most business if a facility opens in Prince George’s. The owner of the existing casino, located at Arundel Mills mall, has urged lawmakers to delay consideration of any expansion until all five previously authorized sites and are up and stabilized.
O’Malley said Friday that he remains hopeful the work group will reach a consensus that can be sold to lawmakers in both the House and Senate. “I’m assuming people of goodwill on that commission ... will reach a consensus,” the governor said.
The pitch given by MGM to both O’Malley and the media Friday emphasized the number of jobs that could be created by the casino: at least 2,000 during construction and 4,000 once the facility opens.
As envisioned, the casino would offer 4,000 slot machines and 250 table games, such as blackjack, roulette and craps.
MGM is a global player in the casino market, with several high-profile properties in Las Vegas, including the MGM Grand, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and the Mirage. Murren, who said his wife is from Baltimore, promised that what is built in Maryland would be fitting for the surrounding of a site on the banks of the Potomac River.
“We’re not going to drop Las Vegas into National Harbor,” Murren said.