Slot machines in Pr. George’s County favored by most Marylanders, poll finds

January 29, 2012

Bringing slots to Prince George’s County, an idea long resisted by local leaders, is supported by most Marylanders, with Prince George’s residents tilting in favor, a Washington Post poll has found.

In the poll, 57 percent of the county’s residents say they would support a slots casino at a location such as Rosecroft Raceway or National Harbor, and 41 percent say they are opposed. That prospect — which is being debated during Maryland’s 90-day state legislative session — has the support of a similar share of residents statewide.

By 2 to 1, Marylanders say slots have been good rather than bad for the state. And more than six in 10 support allowing Las Vegas-style table games, such as black jack and roulette, at existing Maryland casinos — something that has been embraced by the surrounding states of Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Marylanders’ receptiveness to gambling comes as lawmakers give the most serious consideration to the most wide-ranging changes in Maryland’s slots program since 2008, when voters authorized five casinos — the third of which is expected to open in June in Anne Arundel County.

No idea under consideration is more controversial than bringing slots to Prince George’s, where ministers and other longtime opponents have argued that the machines prey on the poor and increase crime and other social ills.

Legislation being drafted in the Senate would invite bids for a casino to be located in a small swath of western Prince George’s that includes Rosecroft Raceway, the recently reopened horse-racing track, and National Harbor, the shopping and dining destination on the Potomac.

Under Maryland’s slots program, the state and host counties keep a share of the proceeds, and boosters of a Prince George’s site argue it would be best positioned to cash in on gamblers from the District and Virginia, where casino-style gaming remains illegal.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has not taken a firm public position on the idea but has asked state lawmakers from the jurisdiction to “keep an open mind,” given fiscal challenges facing the the state and county.

Many of Baker’s constituents seem to be doing just that, the Post poll suggests.

“I’d rather see people play here than go to West Virginia or wherever,” said Zoran Bucalo, 53, an information technology specialist who lives in Bowie.

Bucalo said that he sees gambling proceeds as an alternative to tax revenue and that while he doesn’t play slots, others should be free to do so. “It’s a personal choice,” he said.

Steven Wyrill of Upper Marlboro said he thinks slots opponents overstate the impact casinos have on crime. “If people are going to steal from you, they can do that outside a shopping mall,” said Wyrill, 43, who is in the home repair business.

Other county residents say they remain convinced that casinos are not the kind of economic development that Prince George’s needs now.

“We don’t need to bring in any more gambling,” said James Moore, 58, who lives in Bowie and is a law enforcement official with the Department of Homeland Security. “Let’s bring in stuff that really builds the county up, not that gives people false hopes.”

The sentiment of Prince George’s residents could play a key role in determining whether the county winds up hosting a casino. With more than 860,000 people, it is the state’s second-most-populous jurisdiction, after neighboring Montgomery County.

Under Maryland law, the state may add gambling locations only after a statewide vote. A provision in the Senate bill being drafted would also require a majority vote from the host county for a project to move forward.

That provision is in part a response to a resolution passed in November by the Prince George’s County Council.

Marylanders’ 2 to 1 positive review of the state’s slots program comes despite setbacks that have resulted in only two relatively small casinos opening and in lowered revenue projections for the state.

Both of the casinos that have opened — in Cecil and Worcester counties — are in less populated areas on the eastern side of the state.

A more centrally located facility is under construction at Arundel Mills mall and is expected to open in June. With 4,750 machines, the casino in Anne Arundel is envisioned as the state’s largest.

A state panel is weighing bids for the two remaining authorized sites, a large casino in downtown Baltimore and a smaller one in Allegany County.

The developer of the Anne Arundel casino, Baltimore-based Cordish, has vowed to fight the addition of a Prince George’s casino, arguing it would significantly cut into its market share.

When asked generally whether they support additional slots in the state, only a bare of majority of Marylanders, 51 percent, are supportive, and 44 percent are opposed.

Support bumps up, statewide and in Prince George’s, when possible locations in the county are identified.

Support ticks higher still — and crosses racial and party lines — for adding table games at Maryland casinos. About 61 percent of Marylanders support that proposition; 34 percent are opposed.

Casino operators are lobbying for table games, which they say bring in new customers and create jobs.

The Post poll finds somewhat more positive reviews of Maryland’s slots program among those with annual household incomes of under $100,000 than those with higher earnings.

Statewide, men are more likely than women to see slots as good for the state, with 59 percent of men seeing them that way, compared with 50 percent of women.

There is a bigger gap in perception between African American men and women: 64 percent of men say slots in Maryland are good; 47 percent of women agree.

The telephone poll was conducted Jan. 23-26 among 1,064 randomly selected adults living in Maryland, including 210 in Prince George’s County. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the statewide results, and eight points in Prince George’s.

Polling manager Peyton M. Craighill and polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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