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Maryland Politics
Posted at 03:16 PM ET, 07/20/2012

Prince George’s gaming foes press their case


Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III wants to expand gaming to National Harbor in Oxon Hill. Baker has said he'd like to make the waterfront resort a high-end gambling destination. (Linda Davidson - The Washington Post)

A coalition of religious and civic leaders in Prince George’s County made a new attempt Friday to persuade state officials and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to abandon efforts to get gaming expansion on the November ballot.

“The greatest impact will be felt by the poorest of the poor,” said Douglas Edwards, a Prince George’s minister who said he formerly was addicted to gambling.

“People will get off of work with their smalls checks and the first place they will head is the casino,” Edwards, of Mission of Love Outreach Ministries, said at a news conference Friday outside the county’s government headquarters in Upper Marlboro.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has been attempting to resurrect a work-group proposal that included a casino in Prince George’s, most likely at National Harbor, and authorization of table games at Maryland’s existing five slots sites. The plan was abandoned last month after three House of Delegates members on the work group withheld their support.

Baker, who has been struggling to find ways to expand the county’s tax base, has been pushing for a sixth Maryland gambling site with a Las Vegas-style casino at National Harbor. To get current gaming operators to agree to more competition, political leaders have discussed cutting casino operators’ taxes. Next week, O’Malley is expected to announce whether he will call the General Assembly back for a special session to consider putting a gaming referendum on the November ballot.

Former delegate Gerron Levi (D-Prince George’s), among four candidates who ran against Baker in 2010 for county executive, urged legislators to boycott a special session. She said any tax cut for casino operators would amount to “tax cuts for millionaires and mobsters.”

Levi said the county’s image, which it has been working to repair since County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) went to prison this year on bribery and corruption charges, would suffer.

“I am disappointed that National Harbor has gone from Disney,” which dropped plans to locate a resort hotel at National Harbor, “to the mob,” Levi said. “And the county has gone from trying to recover from a public corruption scandal and locking up elected officials to embracing a corporation that has ties to the Chinese mafia. Why do we want that here in Prince George’s County? I do not believe that our county executive or other state lawmakers have done sufficient due diligence on MGM,” which is vying to operate the proposed casino in Prince George’s.

“We don’t want that here in Prince George’s,” she said

She said she is also concerned about tax equity.

“It is fundamentally against our Democratic values to deliver a tax cut to the 1 percent” in a year when the legislature raised other taxes paid by most Maryland residents and businesses. .

Delman Coates, minister at Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, has argued for months that Prince Georgians are being asked to build a casino when other, more affluent jurisdictions in the Washington area have refused.

“Prince Georgians seek employment opportunities, economic development, and a quality of life that is commensurate with the opportunities provided for our neighbors in the region,” Coates said. “What concerns me is that a plan that would be unacceptable to residents in Montgomery and Fairfax counties is being forced upon Prince George’s County. If it is not good enough for them, why should it be acceptable to us here?” he said in a e-mail.

By  |  03:16 PM ET, 07/20/2012

 
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