On the day his company won the license to build a $925 million casino complex overlooking the Potomac River in Maryland, MGM Resorts International Chairman and chief executive Jim Murren declared that MGM National Harbor would probably become the most profitable commercial gambling resort in the country, outside of Las Vegas.
Among the many reasons MGM coveted Maryland’s sixth and final casino license, for Prince George’s County, was the area’s proximity to “the huge amount of tourists” traveling to and through Washington, Murren said. But he also cited the gold mine just across the Potomac River: Roughly half of MGM National Harbor’s gambling revenue — at least $350 million in fiscal 2019 alone — is expected to come from Virginia.
As I wrote in a front-page story in November, the Old Dominion is one of just 11 states without a single commercial or Indian casino. Murren doesn’t expect that to change, telling reporters in Maryland last month that “Virginia won’t get gaming in my lifetime.”
Murren is 51, for actuaries and anybody else keeping score at home. He also has good reason to hope Virginia won’t get casino gambling, given MGM’s massive bet in Maryland. (MGM National Harbor will open in July 2016, at the earliest.)
Even the most ardent proponents of casino gambling in Virginia think it doesn’t stand a chance of coming to the commonwealth anytime soon.
“Forty-nine states will have it before we get it,” said Richard L. Saslaw, the Virginia Senate’s Democratic leader, who has supported casino proposals in the past.
Realizing that Utah would likely hold out longer, the senator from Fairfax County quickly adjusted his prediction, saying: “Maybe 48.”
Still, there is a gambling bill up for consideration in Richmond during the 2014 General Assembly session, thanks to Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who previously submitted a series of unsuccessful bills to bring a casino to the Hampton Roads area.
I wrote about her latest proposal last month; the details probably don’t matter, since almost everybody I’ve asked — from casino lobbyists to legislative aides — says it’s not going to succeed.
Still, there will be debate and discussion. And ahead of the session, which began yesterday, the Roanoke Times weighed in with a harsh anti-casino editorial.
Jonnie Williams Sr. visited tremendous shame on Virginia with little more than a low-end Rolex watch and a bottle of pills he promised would put more sass in seniors’ golf swings.
It’s hard to imagine — and best left to the imagination — how much more damage would be wrought if the commonwealth rolled out the welcome mat for big-time casino companies and their hangers on.
Even with a sitting governor under federal investigation, it remains unclear whether the General Assembly will respond to public calls for ethics reforms paired with a meaningful enforcement mechanism. Given that lack of resolve, it would be foolhardy for state officials to court greater corruption in the form of legalized gambling.
The editorial includes several other familiar arguments against bringing casinos to the commonwealth and urges lawmakers to dispense with the latest proposal.
Of course, it’s not a unanimous opinion. Last month, Virginian-Pilot columnist Roger Chesley said the anti-casino position held by many state lawmakers is “paternalistic” and “anachronistic.”
It’s also “schizophrenic,” Chesley wrote, given that Virginia has a lottery, off-track betting, horse racing and bingo games.
Should the state be in the business of dictating to the poor what legal vices are permissible? After all, adults in Virginia can easily pick up cigarettes, alcohol and lottery tickets — with the state marketing some of those products, to boot.
I’ve gambled in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Dover. The trips have been fun diversions.
I’d gamble in Portsmouth, too.
My colleague Tom Jackman also wrote last month about the issue, advocating for casinos in Virginia and picking apart some of the arguments against approving casino gambling in the state. His post is worth a read — as are the comments.