Until now, Prince George’s politicians have refused to host a gaming site, citing concerns about slot machines preying on the poor and increasing crime. But that resistance is starting to crack.
With the promise of millions of dollars in proceeds to bolster the recession-battered budgets of host counties as well as the state, some Prince George’s leaders say it’s time to be more accommodating.
“My personal view is, if we can have gaming across Maryland, why not have it in Prince George’s County, so we can benefit from the proceeds also?” said Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard (D-Prince George’s), a former chairwoman of the county’s House delegation in Annapolis. “Times do change.”
The county is the latest in a string of communities across the country to give gambling another look in the face of challenging budget outlooks. Its new executive, Rushern L. Baker III (D), who inherited a $77 million budget deficit from his predecessor, has big plans for Prince George’s, including a new $600 million hospital system, which could benefit from gambling proceeds.
Penn National Gaming, which bought Rosecroft at a bankruptcy auction in January, plans to reopen the facility as early as Aug. 18 for betting on simulcasts of races from other harness tracks across the United States. The Pennsylvania-based company is angling to settle a legal dispute that also would allow it to restore betting on off-site thoroughbred races. And the first season of live racing at Rosecroft since 2008 is to start this fall.
But for the track to make money, company representatives say they will need to usher in casino-style gambling, offering slot machines, tables games or, preferably, both. For now, Penn National has committed to running live races for only two years.
“Long term, it’s going to be pretty difficult without some sort of gaming,” said Christopher McErlean, Penn National’s vice president for racing. “We’ve been pretty upfront about that.”
Putting either slots or table games at Rosecroft would require action by the General Assembly and approval of a statewide ballot measure. Penn National is gearing up for a big lobbying push in the legislative session that begins in January in hopes of having the issue before voters in November 2012.
It is not expected to be an easy sell. But among those who say they are keeping an open mind is Baker, whose position will be pivotal for legislative leaders and members of the county’s delegation in Annapolis.
“Rosecroft can happen, but it’s going to take hard work and expending political capital on the part of the county executive,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), whose district includes part of Prince George’s. “What he needs to say is, ‘I’m for Rosecroft. Let’s get this done.’ ”