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MGM Resorts kickstarts campaign with $2.4M

Onlookers have predicted the advertising showdown over Maryland’s casino gambling referendum would be as pricey as it is contentious.

Now the first campaign finance filing of a group supporting the gambling expansion offers a glimpse into just how pricey it may become.

MGM Resorts International Inc., which wants to build a destination casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, has already donated about $2.4 million to a newly formed ballot issue committee called For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc.

The committee is the same group, spearheaded by Washington, D.C.-area labor unions, which lobbied state lawmakers before and during the General Assembly’s August special session. The coalition was first known as Building Trades for National Harbor Inc. before changing its name this summer to Maryland Workers for National Harbor Inc.

Kearney O’Doherty Public Affairs LLC is still running the marketing campaign for the group, which has already bought advertising time and had spent $330,000 as of Friday, the most recent campaign finance filing.

After buying radio time for advertising last week, the group unveiled a new statewide television spot Tuesday.

The ad claims that 4,000 permanent jobs in the gambling industry would be created if Marylanders voted to expand gambling on Nov. 6. The amount of money going from gambling revenue to the Education Trust Fund would also increase.

Groups opposing the referendum are expected to join the advertising fray, but only For Maryland Jobs and Schools had registered as of Tuesday afternoon. In the group’s elections filings, the chairwoman and treasurer list e-mail addresses matching the Washington office of national lobbying firm Perkins Coie LLP, but neither could be reached to confirm their affiliation.

SB 1, which would allow a Prince George’s casino and table games such as blackjack and roulette at all state casinos, was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley two weeks ago.

A provision in the bill makes more stringent the reporting requirements of any group attempting to influence the result of this fall’s voter referendum on the gambling issue.

Groups are required to file a statement with the Maryland State Board of Elections within 48 hours of receiving contributions totaling $10,000 or more. The groups must also file a statement for every $10,000 they spend.

Committees must file reports on Oct. 12, Oct. 26 and Nov. 27 that cover every transaction made during those periods. Starting Oct. 22, groups must disclose aggregate contributions and expenditures of $5,000 or more, leading up to Election Day.