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Penn National, Cordish talking?

Cordish Cos. officials declined to comment Wednesday on reports that Penn National Gaming Inc. is in talks to buy a minority stake in Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall, the state’s most successful gambling site.

Hollywood Casino Perryville, owned by Penn National Gaming, has seen its monthly revenue drop by more than 25 percent since Maryland Live opened in June.

Penn National, owner of Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County, has spent $13 million opposing a voter referendum — Question 7 on the Nov. 6 ballot — that would create a casino license for Prince George’s County, legalize table games such as black jack and allow casinos to stay open 24 hours a day.

But The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Pennsylvania-based casino and horseracing company was talking to Cordish about buying a significant share of Maryland Live, where slot machines have generated about $1 million a day since opening to great fanfare on June 6.

Carmen Gonzales, Maryland Live’s spokeswoman, said officials would not comment on “rumors” and “speculation.” Cordish Cos. Chairman David S. Cordish did not respond to an email requesting comment, nor did a Penn National spokeswoman.

Hollywood Casino Perryville has watched its monthly revenue plunge by more than 25 percent since Maryland Live opened. If a casino is built at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Penn National fears revenue also will shrink at its Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia.

Penn National had hoped to operate slots and table games at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s county, but has all but abandoned that plan because company executives believe National Harbor has the inside track to be selected as the location for a sixth Maryland casino.

Some observers say Penn National is hedging its bets, in case its ferocious ballot campaign against Question 7 fails to kill expanded gambling in Maryland. They also say the situation bears resemblance to ballot initiatives in Ohio in 2008 and 2009.

In 2008, Penn National spent $38 million opposing a voter referendum that would have allowed a single casino in that state, which may have diminished revenue at Penn’s Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg in Indiana.

After helping defeat that ballot measure, the company spent about $23 million to support an Ohio casino program in 2009 after being assured that it could bid for casino licenses there. The company operates a casino in Toledo and is opening another in Columbus in on Oct. 8.

Del. Ron George, a Republican who chairs the Anne Arundel County delegation in the House of Delegates, said Wednesday there were whispers at the end of the General Assembly’s special session in August that Penn National might attempt to buy a piece of Maryland Live.

George, who opposed legislation that would create a sixth casino license if voters approve because he thought it was unfair to existing operators, said the plan made good business sense for Penn National.

But, unless Cordish is looking for debt relief after building its $500 million casino in Hanover, the move “doesn’t make sense” for the Baltimore-based developer, George said.

If Penn buys a stake larger than 5 percent in Maryland Live, it would have to relinquish its Cecil County slots license under Maryland law.