AFTER YEARS of litigation brought by understandably anxious Prince George's County residents and months of intense negotiations involving county officials, community leaders and development partners, National Harbor may be coming at last to a spectacular Potomac River shoreline site not far from Oxon Hill. On the drawing boards and perhaps ready now to materialize is a grand hotel-convention center complex with restaurants, shops and entertainment facilities -- the kind of upscale attraction that Prince George's sorely needs. But a storm cloud still hangs over the waterfront: If state and local lawmakers succumb to heavily bankrolled gambling industry lobbyists, National Harbor will become a prime target for a casino or more -- not exactly family fare.

Last week the County Council approved a series of bills moving the project along, including a unanimous vote designating the planned hotel and convention center as a special taxing district; it also approved issuance of $160 million in bonds for roads, sewers and other services. Left disturbingly unclear, however, is whether the project will harbor high-stakes gamblers in its 1,500 hotel rooms or attract visitors with a little more on their minds than trying to beat the odds at slot machines and table games.

The partners in the development -- Gaylord Entertainment Co. and the Peterson Cos. -- have played coy when the question of slots is raised. In 2001 Milton V. Peterson told The Post that "this guy ain't now or ever will be in gambling. I don't know if I have to put it in blood." As we noted two years later, blood, or at least a ballpoint pen, might have helped; that was when a senior vice president of the companies said, "At this point, it's not something we have an opinion on one way or another." Now, as reported by The Post's Ovetta Wiggins, Gaylord's president and chief executive, Colin V. Reed, said there is no plan to have slot machines or any form of gambling at National Harbor, but -- here comes the wiggle -- "It's not a simple 'Yes, we want them,' or 'No, we don't want them.' The concern we have is, what if it happens a mile or two from us?"

That need not and should not happen. If reason can prevail in the state legislature, Maryland will refuse to become dependent on big-time gambling, and Prince George's will be the better for it.