Prince George’s County Council postpones critical vote on National Harbor casino

The decision is put off because 3 of the 9 board members are absent.


A rendering of the planned MGM casino at National Harbor. (MGM Resorts International)

Gambling proponents will have to wait another week before the Prince George’s County Council makes it final decision on the proposed MGM casino at National Harbor.

The council, convening Monday as the District Council to deal with land-use matters, reviewed site plans for the proposed $925 million gambling complex but postponed its final vote on the project until July 21. The vote was put off because three of the nine council members were absent.

MGM Resorts International needs council approval to seek construction and other permits for the luxury casino complex, which would be built on 23 acres overlooking the Potomac River.

Arthur Horne, an attorney for the company, said that the delay will not affect MGM’s timetable and that the project is still on track for a July 2016 opening. If the council approves the project next week, MGM could start construction within a month, Horne said.

Monday’s hearing was viewed as the last major hurdle for the project and a last step in the county’s approval process before construction. A council decision, which is expected to be favorable, will come just seven months after Maryland awarded MGM the state’s sixth and final gambling license.

MGM has begun preliminary work at the site, including leveling land and removing utilities. Some traffic lanes around the site have closed, and construction equipment has arrived.

The proposal is viewed as a major economic development deal that will generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars for the county and state.

Opposition has been minimal during the approval process. Most of the debate has centered on the design, the traffic impact and ensuring that the community benefits from the project. The Nevada-based gambling giant has set goals for hiring and contracting within the county and to ensure that minority-owned companies share in the contracting. MGM also has pledged to invest $1 million in the county before the casino opens and to contribute $400,000 annually to Prince George’s while it is in operation.

Two county residents spoke at Monday’s hearing, raising concerns about growing traffic congestion in the area and the lack of a comprehensive transportation plan for the project. Prince George’s planners said the county and state are working on a transportation plan that will address infrastructure and other concerns.

The council chose to review MGM’s application after it was approved by the county planning board May 8. During the planning board’s hearing process, some residents raised concerns about the lighting features and giant outdoor LED video screens in the design.

The planning board approved the project without changing the signs, validating MGM’s assertion that the large screens are as important to the aesthetics of the building as they are to its operations. The concerns over the signs resurfaced at Monday’s hearing.

William Nuckols, who appealed the planning board’s approval, said the panel ignored public testimony and “essentially rubber-stamped everything in the proposals from MGM.”

The proposed 1 million-square-foot facility will have a 300-room glass-tower hotel, 3,600 slot machines, 140 gambling tables, a concert theater, several celebrity-chef-driven restaurants, a spa and high-end stores.

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Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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