On Election Day, I will have to choose sides. Do I support Question 7, the ballot initiative that expands gambling in Maryland and
paves the way for a casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, or not? At first, it seemed hypocritical of me to speak out against gambling, because I can take a roll of quarters and roll with the best of them.
After all, my only trip to Vegas still brings a big smile to my face. The lights, the high-heeled waitresses and buff waiters following me around, from one slot machine to another, offering drinks that kept my head spinning.
And I have friends who live near National Harbor who would appreciate the added amenities, restaurants and entertainment that a full-fledged casino might inspire. They also are hopeful that their property value would increase. I have family members who enjoy taking bus trips to Charlestown, W.Va., and Atlantic City, and they would like to be able to play in their own backyards. I see why they might be in favor of Question 7.
But they’re all retired with a good measure of financial security. I’m concerned about the drain on county resources that a casino would induce. A drain that would leave too many individuals and families high and dry. I am voting against Question 7.
Question 7 would enrich the billionaire businesses that build and operate the casino and leave Prince George’s residents with a few fond memories at best.
Residents will get the low-end jobs working security and serving drinks, while the billionaire investors from outside the county run off with millions in tax breaks at the expense of residents. The contracts for building the casino will not go to county-based construction companies. The food service and beverage delivery contracts are not guaranteed to go to county-based businesses either. The more I think about it, the more I am certain that my vote against Question 7 will be the right thing.
Our community has been through this before. There was a loud community outcry in Prince George’s against slots a few years ago, and the community seemed to prevail. Many ministers in the county had stood against it and joined bus loads of church members rallying outside the State House in Annapolis. The County Council was split on the issue. The bill was tabled for the time being.
Former state delegate Gerron Levi, who is working with Stop Slots in Prince George’s, a coalition of 70 county organizations opposed to it, remembers the collective opposition, too.
“It’s been a swift and unfortunate flip-flop by our lawmakers,” said Levi, who resigned from her position as state delegate to run for county executive in 2010. “Many people opposed it before, both on the County Council and in the General Assembly. These people were publicly outraged.”
She noted the irony of the outrage when then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) proposed slots for Prince George’s, because there’s support for gambling proposed by the Democrats in office now. County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, for instance, told the Gazette newspaper in 2005 that he “would never allow slots in Prince George’s County.” But he now supports a full-fledged gambling casino. Levi chides him, too.
“This is a 24-hour, adults-only addictive entertainment facility with loose rules about alcohol in the middle of a community where a quarter of the residents are children,” Levi said. “It’s bad public policy, bad social policy and bad economic policy.”
I talked with some Prince George’s residents for more wisdom and insight on the issue. They are not fooled by the arguments in support of gambling in their county. They believe the money raised will not make it to county schools any more than lottery funds have. Some say the only reason there has not been a groundswell of opposition to Question 7 is because elected officials are afraid to buck big-moneyed interests that have reportedly spent more than $40 million trying to sway voters to be for or against it. They also say local leaders are afraid to go against state officials who have been rallying to push gambling through. Mostly, I heard a resounding “No!”
“I think right now, there’s hesitation to challenge the Maryland power structure. You’ve got [Maryland Senate President] Mike Miller, and Senator Doug Peters in Bowie supporting it, and a number of County Council members for it. So, to challenge Question 7 is to challenge the Democratic power structure of Maryland,” said Radamase Cabrera, a Clinton resident. Cabrera is a spokesman for the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, formed primarily to oppose redistricting in the state. He said the argument that Prince George’s needs a casino to be more economically viable is flawed.
“To base your economic development on gaming is ridiculous,” Cabrera said.
Gambling is cheap and unsustainable economic development. Another sports arena, a world-class arts and entertainment venue, a technology or research center would take longer to develop, but the rewards — economically and socially — would be so much greater long-term. Branding Prince George’s by a destination casino runs contrary to its image as one of the most educated, talented communities of African Americans in the country. I’m voting no on Question 7.
Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is a columnist for TheRootDC.
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