Eric Smith, vice president of the Henson Valley Civic Association, which represents 385 homeowners near the track, said he has seen a shift in residents’ attitudes.
“In the beginning, most of the folks did not want slots,” Smith said. “But there are so many other places that are opening up. The way the economy is now, we need to keep as much money in the community as possible.”
Residents remain concerned about an increase in littering and traffic that casino-style gambling could bring. But at a recent meeting, about three-quarters of those there raised their hands when asked whether they would be okay with slots, Smith said.
To bolster its case, Penn National has commissioned an economics professor from Bowie State University to conduct a study of the potential jobs and revenue that a Rosecroft casino would generate. It is expected to be released in a few weeks.
Under one scenario, Penn National would demolish the existing grandstand at Rosecroft and build a casino alongside the track that would be similar in size to one now being built at an outlet mall in Anne Arundel County. That facility, with a planned 4,750 slot machines, is envisioned as Maryland’s largest. After several setbacks, its opening is scheduled for next year.
Once fully operational, that casino is projected to generate more than $500 million a year in revenue, with more than $240 million of it going to the state and $27.5 million to the county. The Anne Arundel share was the chief reason cited by County Executive John R. Leopold (R), a former slots opponent, for backing the project.
Baltimore officials have also come around to the idea of a casino there, persuaded in part by the promise of revenue that can be used to lower the city’s high property tax rate. Two smaller slots sites are operating, in Cecil and Worcester counties; another is planned for Allegany.
In Prince George’s, Baker and Miller said that part of the proceeds from casino-style gambling could be used to help fund a revitalized hospital system.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has been unenthusiastic about expanding Maryland’s gambling program, said Friday that he would continue to be “very mindful” of the views of the Prince George’s executive and county delegation.
Casino supporters have plenty of work ahead if they are to make their case before legislators return.
Last year, Miller and Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) pushed a bill through the Maryland Senate that would have allowed gambling on card games — but not slot machines — at Rosecroft. That bill went nowhere in the House.
Muse, a minister whose district includes Rosecroft, said he would still prefer to legalize only card games. But, he added, “I am definitely open to exploring every possibility.”
Card games, such as blackjack and poker, produce more jobs than slots, and they tend to attract a higher-end clientele. But slots are far more lucrative for casinos, because they don’t require the same amount of labor to operate.
Karen Bailey, a Penn National spokeswoman, confirmed that the company’s preference is to include slots at Rosecroft.
The willingness of the House to add a Prince George’s gambling site is the biggest unknown.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he expects debate to “center around” the desires of Baker. He also said that a proposal is certain to draw opposition from previously approved slots operators, who would lose some business.
Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), chairwoman of the county’s House delegation, said that she had not polled her members but that their views are mixed. She said she is concerned about the “addictive” nature of slot machines.
Some delegates are rethinking their views, however.
“At this point, I’m open to the idea,” said Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee. “I was a flat ‘no.’ The fact of the matter is, we’re in a very different economy. I think it would be irresponsible of me not to consider the idea.”