As it prepares to push for casino-style gambling at Rosecroft Raceway, Penn National Gaming has beefed up its presence in Annapolis, retaining lobbyists with ties to the governor and both presiding officers of the General Assembly.
A story in Monday’s Washington Post detailed plans by Penn to bring slots or card games to the horse track in Prince George’s County, which it hopes to re-open next week for betting on simulcast of harness races from around the country.
Among the eight contract lobbyists now registered on behalf of the Pennsylvania-based company are Gerard E. Evans and Nicholas G. Manis.
Evans is a former aide to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and remains close to him. Manis has a reputation for being close to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who once coached him in high school basketball.
Both Manis, who has done other work for Penn National, and Evans were among the Top 10 highest-compensated lobbyists in Annapolis, according to the most recent tally by the State Ethics Commission.
Also on Penn’s payroll is Sean R. Malone, a former long-time aide to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), and Malone’s partner, Lisa Harris Jones, another Top 10-earning lobbyist in Annapolis. Their firm’s work for Penn predates its purchase of Rosecroft in January.
Bringing slots or card games to Rosecroft would require both approval by the legislature and passage of a statewide referendum. The idea is not an easy sell in the legislature. In the past, Prince George’s lawmakers have steadfastly refused to host a gaming site.
Penn faces another obstacles as well: Under current law, companies can only hold one slots license in Maryland. Penn already operates one of the state’s two existing facilities, located in Cecil County. Three others sites are currently planned in Maryland, not including Rosecroft.
Company officials have suggested a couple of different scenarios, including asking the legislature to change the law or partnering with another company that would hold the license at one of the two locations. Analysts have also suggested Penn could sell the Cecil site.
Busch is among those who opposes changing the law. In a recent interview, he said he remains “a big proponent” of the current arrangement because “you don’t want someone to dominate gaming here.”