Half-empty restaurants, largely vacant parking garages and customerless boutiques are often the norm in the created-from-scratch community, which for years has embodied the struggles and the hopes of Prince George’s.
But county officials and the developers of National Harbor say they believe that Tuesday’s vote will help change all that. The measure, which passed narrowly after a relentless $90 million campaign, would allow table games at Maryland’s five designated slot machine sites and permit a full-fledged casino in Prince George’s.
MGM Resorts, which has built casino-hotels around the world, including several on the Las Vegas strip, is angling to build what it has promised would be an $800 million high-end, luxury resort that would open on the Potomac by 2016.
MGM officials boasted that it would become a destination for residents and tourists and attract Rodeo Drive-worthy retail (Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Hermes) and Vegas-style entertainment (Madonna, Saturday night fights).
Prince George’s officials, including County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), said that it could become the economic and cultural mecca — 20 minutes or so from downtown Washington — that the county has sought for more than a decade.
“Having a destination resort will help Prince George’s County. It will help the state,” Baker said, estimating that the county might take in $40 million a year from the casino, revenue that could give a boost to its $2.7 billion annual budget.
Because Prince George’s operates under a voter-imposed property tax cap, public officials are often scrambling for funds, and its school system — about the same size as nearby Montgomery County’s — has a budget that is a third less than Montgomery’s school budget.
But as proponents of expanded gambling celebrated their victory Wednesday and looked forward to decisions on where the casino would be located and who would be licensed to operate it, opponents refused to give up the fight.
Former County Council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel), a lawyer and a longtime opponent of gambling, filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of several community activists challenging the way votes are counted in the referendum process. Penn National Gaming, which hopes to acquire a license for a casino at Rosecroft Raceway in nearby Fort Washington, is also questioning the referendum process. The company has complained that the license is a done deal for MGM.
The final decision on who gets the license in Prince George’s, and where the casino will be located, is up to a state commission.
Critics of the plan have said the potential benefit to the county and the state may have been exaggerated, and they question the promise of officials to use the money to support education.