A majority of Maryland voters Tuesday supported a ballot measure to bring table games to the state’s existing slots parlors and a casino to Prince George’s County.
The numbers on Question 7 were close, but supporters of expanded gambling — led by MGM Resorts International, The Peterson Cos. and labor organizations — came out on top. Their $45 million campaign trumped the $42 million opposition campaign, Vote No On 7, funded almost entirely by Penn National Gaming, owner of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Question 7 support outnumbered opposition by nearly 84,000 votes, or 52 percent to 48 percent.
“The people of Maryland have delivered a message: Sorting through an onslaught of dishonesty, voters chose to support progress,” MGM Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said in a statement. “They want good jobs and more money for their kids’ schools.”
“No one expected such a vicious campaign, but common sense prevailed and Maryland will certainly benefit from our hard work to fight a campaign of unrestrained distortion,” he added.
The nastiness will continue. Though it lost the referendum, Vote No On 7 released a statement shortly after midnight threatening legal action.
“The issue has not been resolved, unfortunately because we have serious reservations about the constitutionality of the process: We continue to believe that the Constitution requires a majority of qualified voters approve any expansion of gaming,” Kevin McLaughlin, Vote No On 7 spokesman, said in a statement. “Today’s vote fell far short of a majority of qualified voters. A lawsuit has been filed to this end, on behalf of the citizens of Maryland, and we intend to explore all of our legal avenues as well.”
The ballot win for Question 7, assuming a lawsuit doesn’t overturn the vote, means that casinos from Anne Arundel (Maryland Live!) to Ocean City to Perryville will be allowed to add table games almost immediately. Their tax rates, the amount of gambling revenue they are required to turn over to the state, will fall from a nationwide high of 67 percent to roughly 61 percent.
But more importantly, for the Washington region, is the expansion of gambling to Prince George’s. MGM will vie to build an $800 million resort casino at National Harbor, owned by The Peterson Cos. The Las Vegas-based resort giant is the odds on favorite, though Penn National, owner of Rosecroft Raceway, may compete for a casino there.
Throughout the bruising campaign, Penn National sought to convince voters that Question 7 amounted to a giveaway to billionaires, one that will not generate the hundreds of millions of dollars promised for Maryland schools.
Proponents, however, cast the opposition as interlopers seeking to protect their out-of-state interests, specifically Penn National’s Charles Town casino. Expanded gaming, they said, will produce millions of dollars for state coffers that are currently going to casinos in West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
In his statement, Murren said MGM’s team of designers and resort experts will begin work immediately on its proposal for a “great destination resort.”
“We stand ready to compete with all comers for this license and the privilege to bring an MGM resort to National Harbor,” Murren said.