By Bill Ordine
Supporters of expanded gambling in Maryland won election night's Question 7 on the river. In poker, the river is the final card.
It took a late rally before it was clear voters had approved the referendum that puts live table games in all Maryland casinos and allows a sixth casino to be constructed in Prince George's County.
Early on, there was doubt that Question 7 would pass. When early voting was posted, the "no" votes outnumbered the "yes" votes by about 8,000 from the more than 220,000 total ballots that were cast before Nov. 6. But as Election Day votes were counted, the "yes" ballots closed in unrelentingly, and Question 7 was approved by more than 93,000 votes, about 52 percent of the vote.
Almost immediately, casino officials began talking about what's next.
Maryland Live! at Arundel Mills Mall, the state's dominant casino at the moment, will be first to cash in on table games, even though owner Cordish Companies stayed on the sideline during the reported $90 million campaign battle.
"Maryland Live! looks forward to enhancing its gaming offering and is prepared to Go Live! with table games -- physical modifications and hiring for over 1,000 new positions -- soon after the state issues the necessary governing regulations," Cordish Companies managing partner Joe Weinberg said in a statement.
It is anticipated the casino will have about 120 live tables as soon as possible.
Caesars Entertainment, which will break ground on its casino south of M&T Bank Stadium next year and open in mid-2014, announced that it was adjusting its branding of the casino to a horseshoe rather than a harrah, to reflect the addition of table games. It will also have a World Series of Poker-branded poker room.
MGM Resorts International, which spearheaded the campaign for Question 7 approval with more than $40 million in campaign spending, even though it is only a prospective bidder for the Prince George's location at National Harbor near Washington, D.C., was unbridled in its enthusiasm just hours after the election results.
"Starting today, MGM's talented team of designers and resort experts begin work on our proposal for a great destination resort for the people of Prince George's County and the state of Maryland," said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International. "We stand ready to compete with all comers for this license and the privilege to bring an MGM resort to National Harbor."
The all-comers portion of Murren's statement goes to the campaign opposing the expanded-gaming ballot measure. That would be Penn National Gaming, which spent about as much on the campaign as MGM.
Penn National has a multifaceted position on all this. The company already owns a Maryland casino in Perryville; the Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, which would be a potential location and bidder for the Prince George's casino license; and the successful Hollywood casino in Charles Town, W.Va., which would be hurt by MGM's potential $800 million gambling resort at National Harbor.
So here are the winners and losers from the election.
Maryland casino customers -- For starters, table-game players won't have to settle for electronic versions of blackjack or craps, nor will they have to drive to West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania or New Jersey for their favorite games. Plus, higher earnings and lower tax rates for the casinos, which are part of the new gaming landscape, also may encourage the casinos to become more aggressive in their marketing and promotions. That means more comps for players.
Maryland casinos -- Prospective casino operators, such as MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment in the city and Maryland Live!, should all make more money with live table games and lower tax rates.
Taxpayers -- There was a lot of campaign mud-slinging about whether all the new casino tax revenue would actually go to schools, as intended. Even if some casino tax money goes elsewhere, such as state infrastructure, it's less money that has to be raised through other taxes.
Job seekers -- A potential casino at National Harbor in Prince George's County, which wouldn't open until at least 2016, would bring substantial construction employment. In the more immediate Baltimore area, Maryland Live! has announced about 1,000 new jobs during the coming months, and the Baltimore casino will also boost its anticipated staff by at least 500 positions, to 1,700 total, because of table games.
Schools -- Funding for education is a problem all over the country. The casino tax money relieves the pressure to keep Maryland public education funded.
Penn National -- If the company doesn't win the bid for the Prince George's casino -- and it seemed to feel it didn't have much of a shot -- a National Harbor resort would substantially hurt its Charles Town casino. There may be some gain for Penn National, because its Hollywood Casino in Perryville, now primarily limited to slots, should be able to compete better with the full casino at Delaware Park about 20 minutes north, assuming Perryville puts together an attractive table-games product.
Out-of-state casinos -- Delaware Park, just a few miles north of the Maryland state line, not far from I-95, may take the biggest hit. It wouldn't be surprising if Delaware Park casino started to market more heavily to Maryland customers in its player-club database. To a lesser extent, the same is true of Delaware casinos in Dover and Harrington. And more of the extended market in beleaguered Atlantic City will erode both for gamblers and for conventions and conferences that National Harbor will court.
The Baltimore Sun -- While labor unions, teachers, police, firefighters, the NAACP, the Washington Redskins, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, humorous former Raven Jonathan Ogden and even the Washington Post supported Question 7, The Baltimore Sun stood almost alone as a major player in opposing it. Opposition TV ads often used Sun headlines and excerpts to make their arguments. The election outcome indicated that Baltimore's dominant news organization was out of step with the electorate.
Incessant gamblers -- Finally, there will be losers among those for whom gambling is not an entertainment, but an illness. Although the numbers may be relatively small, the results are heartbreaking. Both the casinos and the state need to stand ready to do whatever they can to prevent and treat problem gambling.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Sheila Dixon as the mayor of Baltimore. PressBox regrets the error.
Issue 179: November 2012