Gambling campaigns benefit few in state -- Gazette.Net



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There’s no telling how much money will be pumped into the fight over expanded gambling in Maryland by the time Nov. 6 rolls around.

As of Thursday, the total had reached $65.4 million, smashing the state record of approximately $35 million spent on the 2006 gubernatorial race.

Supporters — mostly out-of-state gambling interests — claim a referendum victory will mean about 2,000 new construction jobs and 8,400 permanent jobs at a proposed Las Vegas-style casino at National Harbor, plus 1,600 other table games jobs and $199 million a year for Maryland schools. Opponents — mostly an out-of-state gambling interest — say there’s no guarantee that money will go to schools.

State records show that as of Oct. 5, both sides had spent about $36 million on consulting, TV and radio ads, fliers, office space and other expenses. But of that total, only 39 percent had gone to Maryland businesses, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

All told, eight of the 30-plus businesses receiving money for campaign services are in Maryland.

These numbers don’t reflect the total $56.3 million in spending to date, as not all the expenses have been itemized yet.

Get the Facts -Vote No on 7, the committee fighting the gambling expansion, has kept more of its campaign dollars in the state than the other side. Almost 80 percent of its $18 million in spending through Oct. 5 had gone to Maryland businesses, with Mentzer Media Services of Towson claiming the largest share: $14 million. Mentzer, which declined to comment, manages the campaign’s media and ad buys, so some of that money may have found its way out of Maryland.

Penn National Gaming — the Wyomissing, Pa., owner of Hollywood Casino Perryville, Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town (W. Va) — is the major backer of the opposition campaign. The company touted its in-state spending as a reflection of its interest in Maryland.

“From a Penn perspective, I think it is important to note that Penn National already employs nearly 300 people at our Perryville, Maryland casino and brought back nearly 100 jobs when we re-opened Rosecroft last year. That alone is a far greater number than what our opponents at [MGM Resorts International] have created thus far in the state,” spokeswoman Karen Bailey wrote in an email to The Gazette, referring to the Las Vegas company that would be managing the National Harbor casino in Oxon Hill.

She emphasized that Penn has a “significant” track record in making in-state and local purchasing a priority in all of its jurisdictions.

Referendum supporters, meanwhile, accuse Penn of being more concerned with protecting its West Virginia profits than in Maryland’s well-being.

As of Oct. 5, Get the Facts also had spent $3.9 million out of state, with $3.7 million of that going to the DCI Group in Washington, D.C., for advertisement support.

The campaign has spent $27.8 million to date.

Backers’ dollars going out of state

On the other side of the table, For Maryland Jobs & Schools, the committee supporting the issue, had spent less than $178,000 in state and $18 million out of state, according to the Oct. 5 data.

The campaign is backed mostly by MGM, which is trying to parlay its $29.5 million in contributions into voter authorization to build an $800 million casino in National Harbor. Other backers include CBAC Gaming, a Caesars Entertainment group that won a license to operate a Harrah’s slots parlor in Baltimore, $4.6 million; the Peterson Cos., the Fairfax, Va., owner of National Harbor, $1.7 million; and the Bozzuto Group of Greenbelt, which is building apartments at National Harbor, $10,000.

Most of this committee’s spending — $15 million — has gone to GMMB of Washington, for advertisements and media management.

Many of the committee’s brochures that have been filling residents’ mailboxes for weeks have been printed out of state.

Kearney O’Doherty of Baltimore received the largest in-state contract, $75,000 for consulting services.

For Maryland Jobs & Schools has spent $28.5 million to date.

Committee representatives did not return a request for comment.

NAI Michael Cos., a commercial real estate company in Lanham, received $37,000 to provide the pro-expansion campaign with office space and equipment.

Although the amount is small for a multimillion-dollar company such as his, the spending makes a “big point,” said Wayne Curry, president of NAI Michael and a former county executive.

“Personally, I think it’s practical and good common sense. From looking at the records, it’s clear more of this would be beneficial,” he said. “Anything we can do to bolster Prince George’s and the attractiveness of its real estate is good.”

With Prince George’s being a “voter-rich” community, providing real estate to campaigns gets more people interested in the county, Curry said.

Most of the in-state businesses that are receiving money from the campaigns for services did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.

Some may fear alienating customers on the other side of the issue, said Peter Morici, a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“It’s a business proposition,” Morici said. “If you’re a company that makes buttons and you get a campaign order for buttons, it doesn’t always represent your political views. You just want to make money off printing buttons.

“The best thing to do is keep a low profile,” he said.

Big bucks for radio, TV

A great deal of the ad spending has been with Washington radio and television stations, targeting viewers/voters in Prince George’s, Montgomery, Frederick and other suburban counties.

But to saturate the state, the campaigns also have turned on the spigot in the Baltimore market.

Together, the campaigns have spent more than $3.3 million on ads with WBAL from late August through Nov. 6, said Matt Nixon, a political advertising executive with the Baltimore television station. Of that total, the anti-expansion side accounted for just more than half, $1.7 million.

“Both sides are very interested in what the other side is doing,” Nixon said, adding that the amount of money is not surprising.

Pro and con campaigns spent a total of $2.2 million on ads at his station in 2010 when voters decided to authorize the Maryland Live! slots casino at Arundel Mills in Hanover, he said.

The political ad money isn’t necessarily all gravy for the station, Nixon said. It’s largely offset by the money the station loses when regular advertisers pull back during an election cycle, fearing they will be pre-empted by political ads.

Spending with Fox 45 totaled about $1.4 million, according to the Baltimore television station’s records. The pro-expansion side accounted for $817,165 million, with the anti side spending $629,361 million. The campaigns for and against Maryland Live! spent $679,425 in 2010.

“We forecasted the political would be active and the most active is the casino issue, but some races aren’t as active as we expected,” general manager William Fanshawe said. “We normally budget each year based on what we think is going to happen.”

Both campaigns also sought to advertise with WJZ in Baltimore, but the station did not provide further information.

lrobbins@gazette.net