“People are 50-50 on slots,” Tyler said. “You have to talk about traffic.”
On Tuesday, the Prince George’s County Council is scheduled to vote on a zoning bill that could effectively ban slots. The bill has stirred up debate over traffic, community impact, morals and the county’s need to raise money. As Prince George’s leaders try to redefine the county’s identity and invigorate its economy, they are divided over whether bringing slots and perhaps other casino gambling to Rosecroft will help their efforts or hinder the county’s progress.
Prince George’s was not one of the five Maryland jurisdictions allowed to host slots as the result of a 2008 statewide referendum. The bill up for a vote Tuesday aims to ensure that the county does not become the sixth slots site in the state.
But the measure, sponsored by council member Eric Olson (D-College Park), appears to face a difficult road on the council, which has a tight budget and a strong imperative to build a new hospital system, fix schools and fund economic development.
The debate over Olson’s bill, which began during the summer, has touched on many issues roiling Prince George’s as the county tries to emerge from political scandals and shed its image as the Washington suburb with the fewest assets and greatest challenges.
Although there is no formal proposal to bring slots to Rosecroft, Penn National Gaming reopened the harness racing track in August and has said it is eager to bring slots in as a way to make racing viable. Many Prince George’s politicians — along with some businesses, unions and residents — say slots could help the county increase tax collections, lower unemployment and create vibrant, spinoff businesses.
Joseph Gaskins, who heads a Prince George’s business group, said the potential for job creation at Rosecroft is “astronomical. . . . We are hoping to get our companies in the mix, get them hired and get jobs in the communities.”
Near the track, Michele Sims, an Oxon Hill resident, is not planning to play slots: “I budget myself. I have to watch what I spend.”
But if others want to gamble, that’s fine by her. “I am not offended by it. If it helps the county, it’s probably a good thing,” she said as she left the Oxon Hill library with her daughter.
To many local leaders, the discussions about economic development should focus on attracting upscale dining venues, a top-flight department store such as Nordstrom, high-paying jobs and money to fix the public schools.
Slots don’t help, some officials say.
“No one wants slots in their neighborhood,” said council member Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale), who backs Olson’s ban and is expected to be elected council chairman next month. “We can do so much better.”