Above all, the $800 million venue that Jim Murren envisions atop a hill at National Harbor — with a view of the Washington Monument — would be “luxurious,” a word he used repeatedly.
The architect would be world-class, he said, going through a PowerPoint presentation. The restaurants high-end. The spa fabulous. The shopping could include the likes of Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Fendi. As for the entertainment: Saturday night fights and Madonna, just like in Vegas.
At the same time, it would be “respectful” of the region. Nothing over the top, he promised. No dancing fountains like the Bellagio, one of MGM’s best-known properties on the strip. The message was clear well before Murren got to the final slide of his presentation:
“MGM WANTS TO BE IN MARYLAND.”
Pros and cons
In his sales pitch, Murren was as upbeat and relentless as a neon billboard, but his company’s hopes rest largely on whether Maryland voters approve Question 7 on Nov. 6. The ballot measure has the potential to change not only the region’s skyline but also the calculus for where tourists stay, where business groups hold conventions and where Washington lobbyists entertain.
If approved, the measure would allow Maryland’s five previously designated slots sites to offer table games, such as black jack and roulette. But an unprecedented, $72 million battle has centered on the other thing it would do: add a new gambling venue in Prince George’s County.
MGM is angling to open a casino there in 2016 that would draw regular gamblers who live and work in Washington and its suburbs. But company officials also see the casino as an added attraction for those who travel to the region for business or family vacations from across the country and around the globe. MGM says about 70 percent of its patrons would come from outside Maryland.
But is the Washington area ready for a Vegas-style casino?
Washington is, in many ways, the anti-Vegas: a serious, buttoned-down town, where a suit and tie is often very much part of the dress code and cabdrivers read the Economist. Washington wants to be known for history, not sin. What happens in Washington doesn’t stay in Washington; it ends up on the front page — or in the Congressional Record.
The developers of National Harbor, the 300-acre mini-city where the new casino would most likely land, see it as a natural fit for their property, which is anchored by the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center and has five other hotels, more than two dozen restaurants and close to 50 stores.
But some fear that it would bring crime, gambling addiction and all manner of other social ills. And they wonder how a casino would jibe with one of National Harbor’s soon-to-come attractions: the National Children’s Museum, which is scheduled to open in December.