As voting winds down, neither gambling campaign shares predictions

The polling site at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington on Tuesday morning. (Josh Cooper/The Daily Record)

The streets of National Harbor are quiet Tuesday night, as a cold wind whistles in off the Potomac River and chills the few pedestrians who dare brave the night air.

After months of relentless campaigning, two organizations representing rival casino companies are quiet, too, about an hour before polls close in Maryland, where voters will decide the future of a gambling expansion in this state that could put a resort casino at this Prince George’s County development at the foot of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

“I’m not hearing much,” said Kevin McLaughlin, who has run the anti-expansion campaign for Penn National Gaming Inc., which is trying to protect a pair of its casinos in West Virginia and Perryville.¬†”All’s quiet on the western front.”

McLaughlin said he and other campaigners were holed up at Rosecroft Raceway, the property where Penn National wanted to build Maryland’s sixth casino. But with National Harbor clearly the political favorite should voters approve licensing of a casino in Prince George’s County and legalization of table games such as poker at every state slots parlor, Penn National has waged a desperate, $42 million campaign to stop the General Assembly’s gambling expansion plan.

At an election night watch party hosted at National Harbor by gambling supporters, led by MGM Resorts International Inc. (which spent $40 million of its own money in the campaign) the scene is equally silent. Cloth-draped tables are empty, and only campaign staff and the media have set up shop outside a restaurant overlooking the Potomac.

Like the opponents, gambling advocates say they don’t know what to expect as returns start coming in after 8 p.m.

At the Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington, the closest polling place to National Harbor, the scene is also still. Fewer than a dozen cars were parked in the main lot around 6 p.m., and only a trio of paid volunteers stood outside waving signs touting Question 7, as passing cars honked their horns in apparent approval.

Polls close in Maryland at 8 p.m., at which point a picture of Question 7′s success will start to be painted. If a majority of voters in the state approve the gambling expansion, a competitive bid process would be started for a Prince George’s County casino license and the state’s three operating¬†facilities¬†in Hanover, Perryville and Berlin would start in earnest to expand their gambling floor to allow roulette, black jack and the like. But there is one caveat.

Leaders in Prince George’s have agreed that if a majority of voters in Prince George’s County do not approve the expansion of gambling, a facility would not be licensed for the casino. All other provisions of Question 7, however, would move forward.

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