After Question 7, does D.C. need a casino of its own?

November 8, 2012

A National Harbor casino could look a lot like this one in Detroit. (Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press)

On Tuesday, Maryland voters approved Question 7. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. Or at least you’re familiar with the tens of millions of dollars in advertising associated with it.

By approving Question 7, voters okayed a $800 million luxury casino that is likely to be built at National Harbor, on the Potomac bank just south of the District line. The chief executive of MGM Resorts described his plans for a soaring hotel and gambling palace as a “nod to some of the great monuments” in the region, one that will bring $40 million in yearly tax revenue to Prince George’s County.

Meanwhile, District officials and businesses have are thinking, if tourists and conventioneers are visiting that great monument, will they be visiting ours? And if they aren’t, does that mean we need to start pursuing a casino of our own?

Nope, says D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the elected official perhaps most sensitive of the city’s competitive posture vis-a-vis suburbia. He called the Prince George’s casino a “good thing” — one that shouldn’t threaten the District’s livelihood.

“It will bring a lot of people there that might not come to the metropolitan region,” Evans said. “And any time they come to the region, they come to the city.”

If that sounds unusually sanguine for a man who has spent his political career battling to keep as many tourist and business dollars in the city as possible, well, it’s also an admission of political reality: “We are not ever going to have gambling in the District of Columbia, certainly not at that magnitude,” Evans said. “A convention that is coming to Washington is not going to go there because of the gambling. They’re going to come here because they want to be here.”

Note that the once-fearsome economic threat from National Harbor has abated somewhat. When it opened four years ago, city leaders were afraid it would decimate business at the city’s newish convention center. Those concerns were mostly overstated – Washington Convention Center bookings have remained steady, if unspectacular. Meanwhile, with business less than robust at National Harbor, developer Milt Peterson has been searching for a new attraction to jump-start interest in his megaproject.

“That would be a good draw for them,” Evans said of the casino. “They’re struggling out there.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · November 8, 2012