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Gambling firms have spent $19.4M on referendum ads

Companies interested in the future of Maryland casino have combined to spend $19.4 million to influence the November voter referendum that will decide the industry’s fate, more than double the amount spent on the referendum that started the state’s casino program four years ago.

MGM Resorts International Inc., whose executives want to build a resort casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, pushed total expenditures to $19.4 million Tuesday with a $3 million contribution to the ballot issue committee For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc.

Proponents of expanded gambling — including allowing a Prince George’s casino, the legalization of tables games such as poker and authorizing casinos to stay open 24/7 — have spent a total of $9.9 million on various forms of advertising.

CBAC Gaming LLC, a group led by Caesars Entertainment Corp. that is licensed to operate a casino in Baltimore, and The Peterson Cos., master developer of National Harbor, have spent $1.1 million and $400,000 to support the referendum, respectively, according to state campaign finance records.

The only company on the opposite side of the issue, Penn National Gaming Inc., has spent $9.5 million opposing expanded gambling. Penn is the operator of Hollywood Casino Perryville and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W.Va.

Much of the Charles Town casino’s business comes from Maryland and Virginia residents who might instead choose to visit a suburban Washington casino, if it is built.

Penn National has a chance to operate its own casino in Prince George’s County — at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington — but company executives believe a state commission would select National Harbor as the casino’s location.

After spending $2 million in 2008 to support the legalization of slots-only casino gambling in Maryland, Penn National has twice in two years found itself trying to stop casino development.

In 2010, Penn National spent more than $136,000 funding No Slots at the Mall, a group that opposed the construction of The Cordish Cos.’ Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall, now the state’s highest-grossing casino.

Cordish Chairman David S. Cordish has declined to publicly support or oppose expanded gambling in Maryland since the legislature passed a bill that could lower Maryland Live’s slots tax from 67 percent to 49 percent, potentially the deepest tax cut among casinos.

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