To many people, the soon-to-be-built National Harbor project in Prince George's County -- with its waterfront location and capacious buildings and resort space -- seems like a logical site for a slot machine parlor.
So late last week, during a tour of the project's Oxon Hill site, a chief aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) asked the developer what the impact would be on his project if the governor is once again thwarted in his efforts to legalize slot machines in Maryland.
The developer, Milton V. Peterson, responded to Steven L. Kreseski, Ehrlich's chief of staff, that the project would move forward regardless, according to people on the tour. The development got a boost this month when the Prince George's County Council designated the site a special taxing district and approved $160 million in bonds for infrastructure. The first phase is scheduled to open in 2007.
"Slots has never been something [Peterson] has sought," John Stierhoff, a lobbyist for the developer, said yesterday. "We don't even know that if slots were approved, we would apply for a license."
The tour was first reported in the Baltimore Sun. It was suggested when the politically connected Peterson, of Peterson Cos. in Fairfax, ran into Kreseski last year and asked him to visit the future site of the $2 billion luxury entertainment, shopping, office, hotel and convention complex along the Potomac River near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Kreseski said.
On Friday, about a year later, Peterson finally took Kreseski and two other top state officials, chief legislative officer Kenneth Masters and deputy legislative officer Donald Hogan Jr., on a 45-minute drive around the 300-acre site, said Stierhoff, who went on the tour.
The majority of the discussion, according to Stierhoff, revolved around state investment in the site, particularly such infrastructure needs as sewers and roads.
Peterson showed the group the portion of the site dedicated to a $560 million convention center and hotel, designed to house 1,500 hotel rooms and 400,000 square feet of meeting space.
Many gambling proponents have suggested that this part of National Harbor might be perfect for a slot machine parlor, if the Maryland General Assembly heeds Ehrlich's wish and approves gambling when it reconvenes next year. Opponents see it as a possibility, too.
"That's a logical place," said state Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's), who is against slots. "It's going to be built like the Taj Mahal, and it's going to have a lot of rooms and ballrooms, and it's contiguous to Virginia and D.C."
Peterson was emphatic early on that gambling was not part of his plan for National Harbor, but one of his colleagues has suggested lately that circumstances could change.
Colin V. Reed, president of Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment Co., which will run the hotel and convention center, said this month that although there are no plans for gambling at National Harbor, the developers are concerned about whether "it happens a mile or two from us."
In June, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos's family was cleared to buy nearby Rosecroft Raceway, a harness racing track that the Angelos group sees as a potential site for a hotel and slots.