$90 million fight, Maryland voters OK new casino

Maryland voters approved a new casino Tuesday after the most expensive political campaign ever witnessed in the state.

With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Maryland residents favored Question 7 by a vote of 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent. The measure will place a new casino in suburban Prince George’s County.

MGM Resorts International was the primary backer of the committee supporting Question 7, and the Las Vegas-based company spent $40.8 million on the ballot question.

Regional casino operator Penn National Gaming, also with headquarters in Las Vegas, opposed Question 7 and contributed $42 million to the anti-gaming expansion campaign.

In total, the fight over Question 7 ran more than $90 million, surpassing the combined total spent on Maryland’s last four gubernatorial elections.

MGM Resorts Chairman Jim Murren declared victory in a statement.

“The people of Maryland have delivered a message: Sorting through an onslaught of dishonesty, voters chose to support progress,” he said. “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.”

Murren said MGM Resorts will immediately begin the design phase for the development.

Sayre Matthew, a 37-year-old Democrat, said she voted against more gambling, but not because she’s opposed to casinos.

“I feel like we could get a much better deal,” Matthew said in College Park, explaining that the dollars from gambling don’t mean more money for education, as has been advertised.

Retired medical assistant Carolyn Barton, also a Democrat, said she enthusiastically supported gambling expansion.

“I think they need it here,” Barton said after voting in Hagerstown. “I really think we’ll get money for school.”

Question 7 also allows Maryland’s five previously authorized slot machine-only casinos to add table games and lowers the state’s gaming tax from an industry-high 67 percent.

MGM Resorts plans to build an $800 million hotel-casino at National Harbor, a 350-acre retail, dining, residential and entertainment complex along the Potomac River, 10 miles from Washington, D.C.

The Peterson Cos., the developer of National Harbor, spread nearly $4.3 million among three committees registered to advocate for Question 7.

Caesars Entertainment Corp., which will operate a new Baltimore casino and wants to offer table games, contributed nearly $4.9 million to the pro-Question 7 cause.

Supporters said the question puts Maryland on equal footing with other gaming states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region that have full-scale casinos.

Penn National was the primary contributor to the No on Question 7 cause.

The regional gaming company operates a slot machine casino in Maryland’s Cecil County, a racetrack in Prince George’s County and a full-scale casino in neighboring West Virginia.

Proponents of Question 7 said Penn National was only trying to protect its West Virginia casino from competition.

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