The fight over Question 7, as it will appear on Maryland’s Nov. 6 ballot, has included celebrity endorsers, including illusionist David Copperfield and “Golden Boy” fighter Oscar De La Hoya, who said in a recent robo-call that the proposed casino would be a “destination resort” that will create “thousands of jobs for hard-working people.”
Those claims, funded in large part by the $21 million MGM Resorts has ponied up so far, have been met head-on with a nearly $30 million campaign by Penn National Gaming aimed at convincing voters that the promised jobs and money for education won’t materialize.
The ads have targeted an electorate that in 2008 approved Maryland’s slots program in a landslide, 59 percent to 41 percent. But now, among likely voters this year in Maryland, 46 percent favor Question 7 while 48 percent are opposed, according to a new Washington Post poll that also shows widespread doubt that the measure would boost education funding as advertised.
In addition to a Prince George’s casino, the expansion plan, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), would also allow table games, such as blackjack and roulette, at the state’s five previously authorized slots locations.
Maryland voters embraced the slots plan just four years ago in a relatively low-dollar referendum — with a combined $8 million in spending and muted opposition — that set the previous record for a statewide ballot-issue campaign in the Free State.
This year’s ads have been so relentless that O’Malley recently pushed back, telling reporters in Annapolis, in unusually colorful language, that the opposition claims were “hogwash, a bunch of West Virginia casino hooey.” He has since appeared in an ad funded by MGM and its allies seeking to rebut the claims.
Those ads have touted the money that could be generated for schools by expanded gambling, as well as the promise of thousands of jobs. Proponents, such as O’Malley, have also argued that Penn’s opposition stems from its own business interests: Its properties include Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., which stands to take a big hit if another large-scale venue opens in Maryland.
MGM has a lot at stake as well. The company, which owns several hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas strip and elsewhere, is angling to build a high-end casino by 2016 at National Harbor, the mini-city on the banks of the Potomac River. MGM executives envision a 400-room hotel, a spa, high-end retail and restaurants, convention space, and possibly venues for concerts and shows.