Anticipating the concern, Ro Barnes, a human resources executive at MGM Resorts, was prepared to pivot from jobs to politics:
“We want to bring jobs to the community,” she said. “When you go to the polls, don’t forget us!”
She was referring to Question 7, the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot in Maryland that will decide whether to allow a Las Vegas-style casino in Prince George’s County. The referendum has touched off a non-stop advertising war on television and radio fueled by $70 million, which has already eclipsed the amounts spent by candidates in the past two gubernatorial elections combined.
MGM, which is angling to build the casino at National Harbor, has almost single-handedly financed the support, paying for robocalls featuring prize fighter Oscar De La Hoya and ads with actress Eva Longoria and former Redskin LaVar Arrington.
The massive company, with properties from the Vegas strip to Macau, has also gotten creative as it tries to build goodwill in Prince George’s, which has become ground zero in the battle.
Last weekend, MGM provided lunch for volunteers in Capitol Heights at Central High School cleanup day. And it sponsored the job fair Friday at FedEx field (the Washington Redskins have endorsed the expanded gambling measure, which would also allow table games, such as blackjack and roulette, at the state’s already approved slots sites).
About 200 people showed up and got tips on updating resumes and LinkedIn profiles. They walked away with professional headshot photographs, leads from area companies looking to hire, MGM bags and brochures that read: “Question #7 Means Good JOBS [and] Better SCHOOLS Right Here in Maryland.”
“We felt like there was a need to talk about what we are as an employer and what we’re proposing to bring if we’re successful in the referendum,” said LaDawndre Stinson, the company’s director of human resources.
MGM has shelled out more than $29 million to a ballot-issue committee supporting the measure. The developer of National Harbor and a group that includes Caesars Entertainment have also contributed. Penn National, which wants to build a casino at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington and owns a casino in Charles Town, W.Va., has put in $34 million to pay for the opposition campaign. Analysts have said Penn National faces a financial hit if another large casino opens in Maryland.
The campaigns also are targeting key, voter-rich jurisdictions in Baltimore, where Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) is backing gaming expansion, and Montgomery County, where County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has heeded state leaders’ call to back gaming despite opposition from many Montgomery voters.
But while the outcome will be based on the statewide vote, the Prince George’s casino is not supposed to move forward if a majority of those voting in the county oppose the referendum, under a non-binding provision included in a law passed in August.