Question 7 anthem wins at ‘Oscars of political advertising’

Gov. Martin O’Malley strolled up to a press conference just before Election Day singing a song that had become a ubiquitous advertisement on Pandora Internet radio.

“Maryland cash, bring it back,” O’Malley sang, urging Maryland voters to support Question 7 — the expanded gambling measure that Maryland’s casinos are now enjoying.

Question 7 was approved by voters in November. On Wednesday, the Baltimore public relations firm that dreamed up “Maryland Cash” announced that it had received two first place awards for the song, which was also viewed more than 300,000 times on YouTube.

The team — composed of Kearney O’Doherty Public Affairs LLC, Tim Maloney of Joseph Greenwald & Laake P.A., guitarist and singer Dillon O’Brian and others — won two Pollie Awards for “best use of Pandora” from the American Association of Political Consultants.

O’Brian — the guitar-playing singer who performed “Maryland Cash” while strolling Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in the song’s music video — is the uncle of Damian O’Doherty, principal and co-founder of KO Public Affairs. O’Brian, whose real name is Brian O’Doherty, wrote the theme songs for television shows “The Office” and “My Name is Earl.”

“Damian and some of his friends had the idea of having a song and video, he called me, and I thought ‘this is a great idea,’” O’Brian said in an October interview. “I’m always trying to have those kinds of conversations with people, thinking out of the box in thinking how to use music.”

O’Brian said at the time that he’d like to do more political songwriting, too.

“I think it’s a lot of fun and I would like to get more involved,” he said. “I think its such an interesting way to approach things.”

The song said that out of state casinos — particularly Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia — were benefiting from Maryland gamblers traveling across state lines to play blackjack and the like.

Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall, the state’s largest commercial gambling site, began operating table games this month, and was the mid-Atlantic’s highest-grossing casino in March, generating more than $44 million.

Cecil County executive sworn in, without the “R”

Cecil County’s first executive was sworn in Monday without the Republican affiliation with which she ran for the Upper Shore jurisdiction’s top office.

New County Executive Tari Moore made headlines around the state late last week and over the weekend after The Cecil Times broke the news that she switched to “unaffiliated” after campaigning as a Republican. The website reported that Moore made the move in order to bypass the Republican Central Committee.

Monday, Moore explained her decision after being sworn in.

The voters “sent a clear message that you expect more, and that you will not tolerate the division and aimlessness that have sometimes characterized our politics in the recent past,” Moore said Monday, according to The Cecil Times.

Moore had been a Republican county commissioner, and the party’s central committee could have submitted three names to take her seat if she had remained affiliated. By becoming unaffiliated, Moore took that decision out of the central committee’s hands, and put it under the purview of the new county council.

The Republican party has become split in Cecil County, but the central committee is aligned with Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., chair of the House of Delegates’ Tea Party Caucus, and Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin.

The Baltimore Sun reported over the weekend that the Maryland Republican Party rejected a resolution introduced by that faction that would have forced Moore to step down.

“Tari Moore is a good Republican and I think at some time she will [return to the party],” 1st District U.S. Rep. Andrew Harris told The Sun. “This is local Cecil County politics and, like I say, will work itself out in the end.”

Cordish: Pennsylvania casino industry is ‘terrific’

David S. Cordish put on quite the show at his Maryland Live Casino Wednesday — but the show may be even better in Pennsylvania.

While responding to a question about where Maryland stands in the mid-Atlantic casino industry, Cordish said “Pennsylvania has crushed it.”

“They’ve done a terrific job there,” he said. “Do you know how? With stability in the law.”

Cordish complained this summer that Gov. Martin O’Malley and the General Assembly should not expand the state’s casino gambling offerings until the five, slots-only facilities authorized in 2008 were up and running.

He often said Maryland, if it expanded gambling, would become the only state to change its casino regulations before its original plan was fully implemented.

Nevertheless, the legislature passed a bill in an August special session that authorized the licensing of a Prince George’s County casino and legalization of table games, such as blackjack and roulette. Voters approved that plan last week.

Pennsylvania has authorized the licensing of 12 casinos, 11 of which have opened. Cordish, who chairs The Cordish Cos., has bid on the 12th license in a joint venture with Pennsylvania-based Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment Inc.

Stability in the law governing the casino industry encourages investment by developers, Cordish said. O’Malley has said he would like the legislature to leave the casino industry alone for the remainder of his term.

Three more facilities — in Allegany County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore — are set to open between now and 2016, according to their developers. That’s too far away to project how mighty Maryland’s casino industry might become.

“Forecasting is virtually impossible,” he said.

The Eye on Annapolis Podcast

The Eye on Annapolis Podcast is back with a look at the winners (Gov. Martin O’Malley) and losers (Penn National) from the election. Alex and I also look at the next steps for expanding gambling in the state and what impact the election results will have on the General Assembly’s agenda when it reconvenes in January.


Eye Opener: ‘Deep blue’ Maryland makes history

After a long Election Night and Wednesday morning, The Daily Record breaks down vote counts for and against expanded gambling in Maryland.

Here’s a few other government, politics and election headlines:

Clean sweep of referenda good news for O’Malley

Maryland conservatives successfully petitioned three laws passed by a Democrat-controlled General Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley to referendum on Election Day. O’Malley and legislature then signed off on a gambling bill that required voter approval.

With less than handful of Maryland’s 1,850 electoral precincts reporting, all four laws — the DREAM Act, a gerrymandered Congressional redistricting map, legalization of gay marriage and casino gambling expansion — were upheld by the state’s voters.

That’s big news for a governor widely thought to be pursuing national office in 2016.

“It enhances his national stature, for sure,” said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “Four ballot measures [passed], including the map. … I couldn’t believe that. I was stunned.”

O’Malley said Monday that Tuesday’s ballot questions were not a referendum on him as a governor. But experts said failure of one or all of Maryland’s controversial statewide referenda would be a mark against the state’s term-limited governor, who has made commonplace national television appearances on behalf of the national Democratic party.

Instead of worrying about his legacy, Norris said, O’Malley can now revel in an election night victory in which his name appeared nowhere on voters’ ballot.

“I think one of the big things coming out of this election is what this does to O’Malley’s stature,” Norris said.

Question 7 prevails in tight referendum race

Maryland voters decided to go ahead with an expansion of casino gambling in the state Tuesday, as 52 percent of voters approved Question 7 after both campaigns endured hours of razor-thin margins.

Approval means a Prince George’s County casino license will go out to bid and table games will be legalized at every state slots parlor.

Supporters — including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III — proclaimed victory just before midnight at the campaign’s election night party at National Harbor, where fireworks fell over the Potomac River in celebration.

The campaign against gambling expansion, led by Penn National Gaming Inc. and it’s $42 million of campaign funding, conceded victory shortly afterward.

“We are disappointed in the results tonight, and continue to believe that the taxpayers in Maryland deserve a better deal,” said Kevin McLaughlin, the campaign’s spokesman. “A better deal was possible if the governor and legislature had taken the time to listen to other voices and fashion a gaming solution that fully served taxpayers, schools, and the citizens of the state.”

McLaughlin said the fight was not over, as he had doubts about the constitutionality of the result. A lawsuit was filed last week detailing that case.

Baker, joined by Del. Jay Walker, who represents the district that includes National Harbor, Peterson Cos. Chairman Milt Peterson and former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry, returned to a familiar campaign refrain: the money from expanded gambling will go to Maryland schools, despite what opponents claim.

“Sometimes you can’t believe a comptroller,” Baker said, taking a swipe at Peter Franchot, who has been a leader among those who oppose Question 7.

Walker, who advocated for a Prince George’s County casino as a member of the House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee, touted improvements that would be made to Indian Head Highway due to local impact grants that are part of the taxation formula on state casinos.

He also said the casino would bring in more businesses and high-end retail to Prince George’s County.

“We need to grow our business tax base,” Walker said.

MGM Resorts International Inc., which wants to build at National Harbor, will now develop a bid for the casino license. The company spent more than $40 million fighting for the law, passed by the General Assembly in an August special session to end months of political gridlock that were punctuated by the failure of the legislature to pass a complete budget package in April.

James J. Murren, MGM’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement that Maryland voters had “delivered a message

“Sorting through an onslaught of dishonesty, voters chose to support progress,” Murren said. “They want good jobs and more money for their kids’ schools. … 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.

“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. We stand ready to compete with all comers for this license and the privilege to bring an MGM resort to National Harbor.”

Gambling referendum margin is razor-thin

Jon Peterson and Milt Peterson of The Peterson Cos. are joined by former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry at Question 7's election night party at National Harbor.

There are lots of votes left to count in Maryland, but with about 32 percent of precincts reporting, voters are are just barely showing their approval for an expansion of casino gambling.

The most recent returns reported by the Maryland State Board of Elections say less than 51 percent of Marylanders have voted “yes” on table games such as black jack and a new casino in Prince George’s County, probably here at National Harbor.

The race is tight in Baltimore (51 percent favor gambling expansion so far) and 58 percent of Anne Arundel County voters and 54 percent of Baltimore County voters are against the expansion.

In the Washington suburbs, support is strong thus far. More than 58 percent of Prince George’s County voters are voting in favor of the expansion and more than 54 percent of voters in Montgomery County approve.

Revelers at the Question 7 campaign’s election night watch party don’t seem nervous. Most are MGM Resorts International Inc. employees flown in from around the country over the last many weeks. MGM has a deal with National Harbor developer The Peterson Cos. to build a resort casino at the sprawling development on the Potomac River.

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.

National Harbor businesses hedging bets on Question 7

Red and blue yard signs urging a “yes” vote on Question 7 line the curved road that leads to National Harbor, the potential home of resort casino a Nevada gambling company dreams of opening.

The road signs promoting, among other things, an MGM Resorts International Inc. casino at the posh Prince George’s County development, are nothing compared to the multi-story “Vote Yes” sign that hangs from a National Harbor parking garage, the first building drivers approach.

Some businesses here want a sixth Maryland casino built at National Harbor, but advertising for the controversial referendum question – which, if approved, would also legalize table games such as poker at every slots parlor in the state – is almost non-existent along the carefully planned National Harbor streetscape, along which businesses operate below high-rise apartment complexes.

Christina Stowe, general manager at Cadillac Ranch All American Bar and Grill, said the response is a bit mixed among businesses in the development, but for the most part business owners and employees want MGM to build its casino so they can reap the rewards of increased foot traffic throughout the week and weekend.

Stowe and others said businesses in National Harbor depend heavily on weekday convention traffic coming from the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. A casino would give people another reason to come around.

She also thinks it would make $11 for parking at one of National Harbor’s garages worth it for some Virginia residents across the Potomac River.

Still, “I think it’s kind of a mixed bag,” Stowe said. Business owners have to be careful about how they deal with Question 7, she said, for fear of alienating a potential customer.

Indeed, up and down the streets of National Harbor, only a satellite office for MGM Resorts International and a tea shop have “Vote yes” stickers stuck to their front windows.

Lisa Cascone, a manager at the Public House restaurant, said that most businesses – include the one she worked for – hoped Maryland voters would vote yes on Question 7, but admitted there was some concern that restaurants and other attractions built by MGM would whisk business away, especially those in the hospitality-industry, like bars and restaurants.

But more foot traffic has to be a good thing, Cascone said. Right?

“We don’t know,” she said. “We hope.”