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P.G. Executive Baker wants National Harbor casino

ANNAPOLIS — Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and developers of National Harbor urged Maryland lawmakers on Wednesday to approve a measure to expand gambling in Maryland and allow a high-end casino next to the Potomac River close to the nation’s capital.

But a state senator whose district includes National Harbor said the concept is too big to take up in the middle of the legislative session.

Baker, a Democrat, told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that a $1 billion casino would draw many more tourists.

“National Harbor provides Prince George’s County with a unique opportunity to take advantage of our proximity to the District of Columbia and the I-95 corridor — one of the busiest highways on the East Coast — to build a high-end destination facility,” Baker said.

Colin Reed, chief executive officer of Gaylord Entertainment, told the panel that more people would visit the location if a posh casino were built, and they would stay longer as well. Reed said he and other supporters envisioned a top-caliber casino similar to the Las Vegas Strip.

“Because of the extraordinary attractions that reside within a 10-mile radius of this site, it would bring visitors far afield and would attract several million new visitors to this particular area,” Reed said.

State Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, expressed a variety of concerns. While the senator said he remains undecided about whether he supports a casino in his district, he believes putting a casino at National Harbor would kill the struggling harness horse racing industry at Rosecroft Raceway in the county. Muse said he believes the idea should be shelved until next year.

“This is too big to say, ‘Do this and figure it out in a few days,'” Muse said.

Supporters point out that Muse’s suggestion would delay the plan at least until 2014. That’s because any expansion of gambling in Maryland must go on a statewide ballot.

Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, D-Prince George’s, is sponsoring the measure, which also would allow Maryland’s slot machine casinos to add table games like blackjack and roulette. The measure also would increase the share of money generated by casinos for the owners from 33 percent to 40 percent. Another change would allow a current casino license holder in the state to possess more than one license.

Peters, who has underscored the importance of community support to allow a sixth casino in the state, also wants to amend the state’s constitution to allow county residents to vote on whether they want a casino in their county — in addition to the statewide vote.