At midnight Tuesday, fireworks soared over National Harbor, acknowledging the narrow victory that Maryland voters gave to expanded gambling in the state, including a major resort and casino at the Prince George’s County riverside locale.
Support for the measure, known as ballot Question 7, was 52 percent.
The controversial ballot measure let voters decide on whether to expand Maryland’s gambling program to include Las Vegas-style table games such as blackjack and roulette as well as a sixth casino in Prince George’s County.
Prince George’s voters supported the expansion effort by about 59 percent to 41 percent. Lawmakers had pledged that if a majority of voters in the county rejected the measure, a casino would not be built along the Potomac River.
In St. Mary’s County, 58 percent approved of expanding gambling to a casino on the Potomac River. A majority of voters in Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Allegany, Frederick and Washington counties, Baltimore city and counties on the state’s lower Eastern Shore, also supported the measure.
Marylanders voted in 2008 to allow slot machine gambling in five jurisdictions, and three casinos — one in Perryville, one at the Ocean Downs race track in Berlin and one near Arundel Mills mall in Hanover — are running. A fourth, to be in Baltimore, is scheduled to open in 2014.
A fierce ad war over the issue had been waged by casino owners MGM Resorts International, which supported the measure, and Penn National Gaming, which opposed it. MGM sought to build the major resort and casino at National Harbor in Oxon Hill. Penn National owns Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., a popular gaming destination for many Marylanders.
Each company has given more than $40 million to the state ballot issue committees fighting the issue.
“Pro” ads argued that approving the measure would create thousands of jobs and generate as much as $200 million for the state’s Education Trust Fund. The “anti” ads argued that there was no guarantee the money would go to education; some even portrayed the state’s use of trust fund money to fund education as a “raid” of the fund.
Debate over table games and a new casino has dragged on for the better part of a year in Annapolis. Initial legislation passed the Senate during this year’s regular session but never came to a vote in the House. It was resuscitated in a special session this August, where it passed narrowly passed the House.
A majority of Marylanders who voted early opposed the gambling expansion, but voters on Election Day supported the measure heavily.
Former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) said a National Harbor casino could be a valuable economic development tool for the county and that gambling would be just one amenity at a resort hotel. “Who turns down something we’ve hungered for for decades?” Curry said.
Geraldine L. Parks of Upper Marlboro said the casino would bring jobs and help education. Parks is vice president of Metropolitan Protective Services, which provides security for National Harbor and hopes to get the security contract for the new casino. That contract would allow the business to expand, Parks said.
But others were unconvinced.
Emily Oleson of Takoma Park said using gambling to fund schools wasn’t the right approach. “Can’t we raise money for education in a way that doesn’t exploit people’s addictions?” she said.
Staff writer Jessica Ablamsky contributed to this report.