Voters’ approval of Question 7 greatly expands the state’s fledgling, slots-only casino industry, allowing Maryland Live! and two other sites to stay open 24 hours a day and by early next year to offer dice and card games such as craps, black jack and roulette.
But the full magnitude of the measure will be felt in coming years, when in 2016, a towering casino could rise from National Harbor over the District skyline and motorists traveling a 44-mile stretch between Baltimore and Washington would encounter three casinos, each with an array of table games and more slot machines than any single casino on the Vegas Strip.
In plodding toward a decision, Maryland voters weathered an unprecedented blizzard of political ads. In three short months since state lawmakers sent the issue to the ballot, campaigns funded largely by out-of-state gaming interests shattered every record for spending on a Maryland election
The two sides spent more than $90 million — rivaling the total amount Republicans and Democrats together had spent in Maryland over the past 14 years to wage four hotly contested races for governor.
Looked at another way, it eclipsed Maryland’s entire universe of political spending. It is more than the candidates for governor, comptroller and attorney general; the 404 candidates for the House of Delegates; the 114 candidates for state Senate; the 16 major-party nominees for the U.S. House of Representatives; and the four for the U.S. Senate spent altogether on elections to fill those offices’ current terms.
In the title fight, MGM Resorts will go down as the victor over Penn National Gaming. MGM is the largest casino operator in Las Vegas, and its spending to support the measure has positioned it as a favorite to develop an $800 million casino and resort at National Harbor.
If it does, analysts say, it could be the most lucrative casino on the East Coast and Penn National stands to lose a significant share of its revenue from Washington-area gamblers who now travel to its Charles Town casino in West Virginia.
“The people of Maryland have delivered a message: Sorting through an onslaught of dishonesty, voters chose to support progress,” said MGM chairman and chief executive Jim Murren.
The defeat breaks a string of ballot-box successes that has enabled Penn to limit competition through the midwest.
In Maryland, it bankrolled not only a ballot-issue committee that waged a nonstop ad blitz, but also put a local mayor, black community leaders and others in Prince George’s County on its payroll to speak out against the measure
Penn’s line of attack — mostly centered on the uncertainties of whether more gambling would translate into higher spending on classrooms — appeared to resonate with voters early on. A Post poll in mid-October found widespread doubt that the measure would boost education funding as advertised.But after Penn’s message won over a majority among early voters, those who turned out to the polls on Tuesday backed the measure, including in Prince George’s, which had to endorse the measure for a casino to move forward there.