After the hour-long presentation, many in the audience approached the speakers and peppered them with questions. What are the prospects for the casinos in Maryland? What would be the return on their investment? How soon could they get their green cards? And one man was torn: He and his wife wanted to move to America, but as Christians they worried that “investing in the casino industry might violate our religious beliefs.”
With the United States still struggling to recover from the 2008 recession, China, with its booming economy and growing ranks of newly rich, has become an attractive source of funding for American-based development projects. And for the Chinese, “investment immigration” has become an increasingly popular way to move to the United States without the delays and vagaries of America’s immigration lottery.
The casino, being built in Anne Arundel County by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., is poised to be the latest beneficiary of the incentive program, which aims to spur job creation and makes a priority of luring investment to regions with relatively high unemployment.
“A lot of countries have started to let investors have easy access,” said Ning Shao, director of the Maryland Center, an office partly funded by the state that facilitates trade and investment between Maryland and China.
Casino gambling is “a new industry that is very key to the state economy, especially in generating needed revenue to fund education in Maryland,” said Shao, who has been helping recruit casino investors, though not, Maryland government officials say, at their behest. The EB-5 visa program has existed for two decades but has grown rapidly as the U.S. economy stalled. Under its auspices, foreign investors have been sought for a variety of projects, including assisted living centers and amusement parks in Florida and dairy farms in Iowa.
Three “regional centers” have been set up in the District and Northern Virginia to lure investors, including one to develop real estate projects and small businesses in Wards 7 and 8 in the District.
Cordish’s more recent overtures to China also reflect the challenges private developers have faced in securing financing for Maryland’s fledgling slot-machine gambling program. Launched in late 2008, when most gaming companies were overextended and credit markets were frozen, the program is still without qualified operators for two of five authorized locations.