The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency on Wednesday issued the operating license for MGM National Harbor, clearing the way for the $1.4 billion casino and entertainment venue to open its doors to the public and boosting the retail and employment opportunities Prince George’s County officials have long sought.
Maryland gambling officials said the casino, which sits on a 23-acre parcel on the banks of the Potomac River, held two successful controlled gambling demonstrations in the past week.
MGM National Harbor President Lorenzo Creighton said that as the company moves forward, it plans to build on its promises to be part of the Washington community, supporting local enterprises. He estimates that the company will spend $60 million to $80 million a year procuring items for use in the casino’s operations.
When the doors at MGM open Thursday night, close to 50 percent of the casino resort’s workers will be Prince George’s County residents and the company will have donated more than $1 million to workforce training efforts and local nonprofits, company executives say.
The numbers realize promises the company made in a community benefits agreement with Prince George’s. As operations begin at the resort, MGM executives say the company is making partnerships with Washington-area businesses a priority. MGM has agreed to procure at least 20 percent of its operational purchases from minority businesses based in the county.
“For us, partnership with minority business reflects our core values and provides us with a competitive advantage,” Jim Murren, chief executive of MGM Resorts International said at a Press Club luncheon Friday. “Because you see, MGM’s mission is not just to provide a short-term bump in Prince George’s economy but to be a long-term partner in stimulating growth and opportunity throughout the region and ultimately providing that important pathway to the middle class.”
So far, Murren said, the company has created 4,000 new jobs.
Some firms that MGM contracted during the construction phase have seen growth, doubling their business and number of employees.
Tobar Construction, a Beltsville-based subcontractor run by a Guatemalan immigrant, was one of the first companies to get a contract at the site, and workers were still there last week helping with finishing touches. Tobar workers removed more than 5,000 truckloads of dirt, laid the foundation, installed about 200,000 square feet of concrete floor and created the foundation for some of the statues at the property.
“This is more than twice as big as anything we have done before,” said Francisco Lopez, who administers the contract. “This was such leap from where we were to MGM.”
The number of Tobar employees grew from 35 to 65, and the job prepared them for other big jobs, Lopez said. They recently broke ground on a computer science building at the University of Maryland. At one point, the company had up to 75 workers on-site, Lopez said, most of them black and Hispanic.
“We had to work hard, but they gave us a chance,” Lopez said.
Murren’s remarks that the number of jobs held by county residents is expected to grow echoed those of other casino executives and county leaders, who say the new resort will be a driving economic force for the region.
Roland Jones, director of the Prince George’s County Office of Central Services and chairman of the committee that provides oversight of the agreement, called the company “a good partner” and said its construction numbers have exceeded expectations. The county, he said, will verify the operations employment numbers the company is reporting.
As of the end of September, MGM reported it had hired 94 local businesses and paid them $236 million for work related to the facility’s construction, according to a quarterly report provided to the county.
Nearly 40 percent of MGM’s construction payments had gone to minority-owned businesses, exceeding a 30 percent goal. Of the 164 minority-owned businesses that worked on the construction, 58 were based in Prince George’s and received $118 million in payments — about 15 percent of the total construction payments and higher than the goal of 12 percent.
MGM said more than 1,700 county residents were hired for the construction phase. County officials say they look at payroll to verify the labor numbers.
As it moves to operations, MGM says it has partnered with numerous local suppliers, and plans to use Prince George’s-based Miller Farm for produce in the spring. The resort is working with Melwood, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities to people with disabilities, to supply flowers for the floral display at the 15,000-square-foot conservatory, company officials said.
Melwood, which hires about 900 people with physical and developmental disabilities in the region and has several greenhouses in Upper Marlboro, supplied about 125,000 plants and flowers to MGM that are displayed in the conservatory and across the property, president and chief executive Carol Ann “Cari” DeSantis said. Six Melwood workers helped with delivery and planting, she said, and the contract has provided an opportunity to grow their greenhouses in Upper Marlboro.
MGM also is purchasing food from various Washington-area companies, including International Gourmet Foods in Springfield, Va., and Belair Produce in Hanover, Md. It is getting oysters from True Chesapeake Oyster farms and is bringing the famous Baltimore-based Pappas Crab Cakes brand to its food court.
Under the community benefits agreement, MGM was required to donate $1 million to county organizations before opening. According to a recent report, the company has donated just over a half-million dollars to universities and colleges or their associations, including $343,000 to the Prince George’s Community College Foundation, $75,000 to Bowie State University and $52,500 to the University of Maryland in College Park.
The Community Foundation for Prince George’s County, an advocate for the county’s nonprofit groups, said it received a $140,000 check last week from MGM to be used to support county nonprofits. The foundation had already received two donations of $50,000 each in support of its civic leadership awards program.
MGM said it also contributed to the Alliance of Southern Prince George’s Communities. The Accokeek Foundation said it received $16,200 to support its educational programs.
Still pending is the implementation of a culinary program at a county high school, which MGM and the county had agreed to start before the casino opening. County and company officials say the original plan at Potomac High School in Oxon Hill fell through and the two are working to identify a new location for it. The program could consist of MGM donating kitchen equipment and providing teaching assistance and money.
As part of the deal with the county, MGM had pledged to start by staffing 40 percent of its workforce with county residents and boost that number to 45 percent by the third and fourth years of operations, with a goal of 50 percent by its fifth year.
“There is gaming, but there is so much more,” Creighton said, noting the payroll alone is about $200 million.