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Senate President says Penn National will spend $40 million to fight gambling expansion

Penn National Gaming Inc. pumped another $5 million into fighting Maryland’s gambling expansion Friday, a battle that will be decided by voters on Election Day.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, said to expect the Pennsylvania-based gambling company to spend more than double the $18 million they’ve already committed to defeating Question 7, which would allow a casino in Prince George’s County and table games at every Maryland casino.

Penn National is the owner of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, a lucrative property that would see its bottom line hurt by a casino in the Washington, D.C. area.

“They are going to spend close to $40 million to keep [people] away from casinos in Maryland,” Miller said in a recent interview. “It’s West Virginia versus Maryland.”

Penn National, originally interested in operating slot machines at its Rosecroft Raceway property in Prince George’s County, turned against Maryland’s gambling expansion when MGM Resorts International Inc. emerged as the front-runner to operate the state’s sixth casino, probably at National Harbor near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Virginia.

Miller said Penn National’s campaign against expanded gambling was trying to disguise the fact that it’s only interest is protecting its Charles Town Casino. The company also operates Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County.

A member of the Maryland legislature since 1971, Miller said he could not recall a more fierce statewide election. He said votes on expanded gambling, gay marriage, the Dream Act and congressional redistricting — the last three of which were petitioned to referendum by Republican opponents — would be close.

“The Maryland Democratic party supports all the questions,” Miller said. “But I’m not sure exactly how that will show up on the ballots.”