Prince George’s delegates talk about amending casino bill


A view of National Harbor, a potential casino site in Prince George’s County. (Courtesy of Peter Fellows)

One possible amendment would set a higher required minimum investment — perhaps $800 million — for the developer of a Prince George’s venue than at the state’s five previously authorized slots casinos.

County Executive Rusher L. Baker III (D) is lobbying state legislators to authorize a “billion-dollar” facility at National Harbor, a mixed-use development on the banks of the Potomac River.

Others involved in the debate have questioned whether such a large investment would be feasible unless the state allowed a casino owner to keep a much larger share of proceeds than would be permitted by a bill the Senate passed last week.

“There are members of the delegation who are working on amendments to ensure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is a world-class facility and that it would make sense for the residents of Prince George’s County,” said Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George’s), who added that legislators from the county want “to put their imprint on the bill.”

The fate of the proposed casino is one of scores of bills that legislators are expected to debate in a hectic closing week of the Maryland General Assembly’s 90-day session.

Besides authorizing a facility in Prince George’s, the gambling bill would allow Las Vegas-style table games at Maryland’s six casinos.

Behind the scenes, there has been talk about amendments that would make the legislation more attractive to the Cordish Cos., which is developing a large casino at Arundel Mills mall that is scheduled to open in June.

Cordish officials have argued that a Prince George’s facility would deter gamblers from the District and Northern Virginia from coming to its casino in Hanover, which will be among the biggest in the country. Legislators are weighing whether to increase the share of proceeds that the owner of the Cordish facility may keep.

Prince George’s legislators are also looking at other ways to sweeten the deal for the county. Del. Jay Walker (D), whose district includes National Harbor and another possible casino site, said last week that he would like to see money in the bill earmarked for road improvements in the area.

The bill that passed the Senate is scheduled for a high-stakes hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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