A turf battle over Maryland’s gambling market intensified Friday as companies with opposing views of a proposed Prince George’s County casino traded accusations about the other side’s interests and motives.
With barely a week left before the General Assembly adjourns for the year, Milton V. Peterson, the developer of National Harbor, said a casino there would steal few patrons from a venue scheduled to open in June in neighboring Anne Arundel County.
Owners of that casino, being constructed at Arundel Mills mall, have vociferously argued to state lawmakers that allowing a Prince George’s facility would unfairly cut off their expected customers from the District and Northern Virginia.
“Washington tourists aren’t going to go to Arundel Mills,” Peterson said in an interview. “Arundel Mills is part of the Baltimore market. . . . Arundel Mills is Baltimore. It isn’t Washington.”
That assessment came as members of the House of Delegates — the Prince George’s delegation, in particular — stepped up scrutiny of a bill that passed the Senate this week and is forecast to net the county $48 million a year.
The legislation, which would also allow Las Vegas-style table games at Maryland’s five other gambling sites, is the largest attempted expansion of gaming since lawmakers launched the state’s slots program in 2007.
Representatives of the Cordish Cos., the developer of the slots casino at Arundel Mills, have argued in recent days that the public is being misled about the quality of the facility being promised at National Harbor.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) is continuing to champion a “billion-dollar” casino at the site on the banks of the Potomac River. In order for a private company to recoup its capital investment, Baker has said, the state should allow the casino owner to keep a more generous share of slots proceeds than under existing law.
The bill, as it passed the Senate, increases that percentage to 48 percent from 33 percent — but that is not nearly enough to make such a high-end project feasible, said Joe Weinberg, president of the Cordish Cos.
“There’s no way that a billion-dollar project can be done at the tax rate that’s in the bill,” Weinberg said. “It’s a misrepresentation to suggest such.”
Baker said Friday that he thinks the investment in a National Harbor casino could still come very close to what he envisions.
“We feel confident we can work with that to build the kind of facility we want in Prince George’s County,” he said.
Peterson acknowledged that the project — which would be built by a company other than his — might have to be scaled back if the percentages are not amended by the House.
The number of hotel rooms attached to the “resort-style” casino, for example, could be reduced, Peterson said.
But he insisted that the “quality level” of a facility at National Harbor, a 300-acre, mixed-used development, would not be compromised in any way.
“There isn’t any way that I’m going to denigrate what I’ve been working for,” Peterson said.
Peterson also argued that Cordish should embrace the bill because of the increased share of slots proceeds that owners may keep and the authorization of table games. Under the bill, owners may keep 90 percent of table-game proceeds.
“I cannot for the life of me figure out why they’re not the biggest champions of this bill,” Peterson said.
Those sweeteners have been sufficient to bring Caesars Entertainment on board. Caesars, the only bidder for a planned slots casino in downtown Baltimore, recently endorsed the bill even though it could cost its site some customers, said Gary Loveman, the company’s chairman, chief executive officer and president.
Loveman said that Cordish has “a little more risk” because its facility will be closer to Washington, but he added that he thinks “the market is sufficient” to support all three casinos.
Supporters of the bill also got a boost Friday from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who announced her support in a letter to House leaders.
“When the legislation was first introduced, it was hard to imagine that a sixth site would not cannibalize our Baltimore City site before it opened,” Rawlings-Blake wrote. But after she and her staff crunched numbers, she said, she came to believe that supporting the bill “is an appropriate position.”
Not all delegates in Baltimore nor Prince George’s have been convinced of the bill’s merits.
After the Prince George’s delegation was briefed on the bill Friday, its chairwoman, Del. Melony G. Griffith (D), had a testy exchange in the hallway with Baker, who was in Annapolis for the third day in a row to lobby for the bill.
Griffith, who said she is lukewarm about the bill, said she worries that if it is approved, the county would not benefit from its share of proceeds for several years. With revenue tight, Prince George’s could use a boost sooner, she said.
“Can we just agree to disagree?” she asked Baker as the conversation broke up.
Staff writer Miranda S. Spivack contributed to this report.