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Construction unions continue aggressive campaign for P.G. casino

ANNAPOLIS — Labor union leaders criticized the stalled gambling negotiations among state lawmakers Monday, saying the snarled debate was preventing the largest construction project for union jobs in the country.

Vance T. Ayres, executive secretary-treasurer of the Washington D.C. Building Trades Council. (The Daily Record/Alexander Pyles)

The claim, made as about 20 members of the Washington D.C. Building Trades Council and Unite Here Local 25 briefly rallied at Lawyers’ Mall in front of the State House, continues an aggressive marketing campaign paid for by the trades council and run by Baltimore firm Kearney O’Doherty Public Affairs LLC.

A radio campaign is already playing in the Baltimore area, and a television ad was slated to start airing Monday afternoon. The ads tout the jobs that would be created through the construction of a casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.

Labor leaders also co-signed a letter delivered Monday to Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s and House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, which urged the trio to come to quick agreement on an expansion of gambling.

“The bottom line is we told them ‘we need the strongest push we can get to start this process, and maybe get it rolling to start this job, ASAP,’” Vance T. Ayres, executive secretary-treasurer of the trades council, said of the marketing campaign. He added that 2,000 workers could have jobs at the height of construction of a National Harbor resort casino.

“When you have an opportunity like that National Harbor casino, an $800 million to a billion-dollar casino … with the economy the way it is, with tax revenue down and people who are out of work, losing their homes, it’s hard for me to believe that you have folks down here who have an issue with that,” Ayres said. “I don’t understand what the problem is.”

Radio ads paid for by the trades council have suggested lawmakers are acting on behalf of The Cordish Cos. Chairman David S. Cordish, developer of the Maryland Live casino at Arundel Mills mall. Cordish has argued that changing law to allow a sixth casino in the state would lead to oversaturation of the market and send a poor message to Maryland businesses. Cordish officials have declined to comment on the radio ads.

O. Abiola Afolayan, political director for Unite Here Local 25, said lawmakers should focus on jobs and not the “hardships imposed [on] one business man.”

“No matter what our views on the gaming issue, we should at least let the voters decide,” Afolayan said.

A poll released by the trades council Sunday found that 53 percent of those surveyed thought improvements could be made to the state’s gambling program.

The poll, conducted by Annapolis-based OpinionWorks, found that almost 60 percent of respondents support adding table games at state casinos and 56 percent are in favor of the $800 million resort casino proposal for National Harbor offered by MGM Resorts International Inc.

Overall, 83 percent of respondents said voters should decide whether to allow expanded gambling. The poll’s margin of error was plus- or minus 3.5 percent.

Voters cannot decide, however, unless lawmakers pass legislation that authorizes the referendum. O’Malley met with Busch Friday night to try to bridge the gap between the House and Senate on the gambling debate, but it was unclear what — if any — progress had been made as of Monday afternoon.

“In Maryland, blue, Democratic-friendly Maryland, you wouldn’t think that this issue of caring for residents, and creating careers and looking out for working people would be such an issue, it’s like a no-brainer,” said Ayres, a former lobbyist in Virginia. “And I understand about wanting to be business friendly. You want to attract business, and I’m not knocking anybody who has invested time and effort in making money.

“But when I get to a certain point, I say when is enough, enough?”