Penn National Gaming Inc. is still a long way from bringing slot machines to Rosecroft Raceway, but the Prince George’s County Council moved the casino and horse track owner a little closer to the finish line on Tuesday.
The council spiked a local zoning bill that would have banned slots in Prince George’s and instead opted for a resolution calling for the General Assembly to take up the issue.
Karen Bailey, director of public affairs for Penn National, said the company was “pleased at the outcome.”
“It will allow us the opportunity to continue the discussion about benefit of slots in the county,” she said. “We look forward to working with the council and the community on this very important issue — jobs and revenue are a very important matter in today’s economy and our proposal will provide both to the county and the state of Maryland.”
Expanding gambling will be a major issue in the 2012 legislative session as some lawmakers look to both compete with surrounding states and boost Maryland’s revenues. The debate will center on table games, such as poker, blackjack and roulette, as well as expanding slots sites beyond the five authorized in 2008.
Del. Dereck E. Davis, a powerful Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, said his county would be central in that discussion.
“I don’t know if it’s going to pass, but do I think it’s going to be a major issue? Absolutely,” he said “Anyone who says different is being naïve. You’re getting a strong push from Penn National. The Senate has passed such legislation previously.”
Penn National still has several high hurdles to clear if it wants to woo gamblers with slots to the struggling Fort Washington harness track.
While the Senate has approved poker rooms for Rosecroft, the House of Delegates has been cool to the idea.
There are members of the county delegation and council on both sides of the issue. Davis said he is opposed to giving Penn National a casino license, while Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has been a staunch advocate of giving the track with additional gambling options.
“When you have one in four homeowners behind on their mortgage in Prince George’s, you’re going to exacerbate problems,” said Councilman Eric Olson, the Democrat behind the anti-slots zoning bill.
Even if legislation clears the General Assembly, any gambling expansion would have to go to a referendum.
The County Council, after voting to table the anti-slots bill 5-4, approved a resolution that called for state lawmakers to put expansion in the county to a statewide referendum, but use only the Prince George’s votes to decide the issue. That appears to conflict with Article 19 of the state constitution, which states any expansion of gaming must be authorized “in a general election by a majority of the qualified voters in the State.”
And even if lawmakers and voters OK slots, or more in Prince George’s, Penn National would trip over another piece of the state’s slots law that bars a single entity from holding more than one casino license. Penn National owns Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County.