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Spending on gambling referendum hits $35.7 million

More money has been spent to influence Maryland’s referendum on an expansion of casino gambling than was poured into the 2006 gubernatorial race, according to state elections records.

New money disclosed to the Maryland State Board of Elections Tuesday brought total spending to $35.7 million, more than the $34 million spent between Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in their first battle for the governor’s mansion in 2006.

Penn National Gaming Inc., through its ballot issue committee Get the Facts – Vote No on 7, has spent more than $18 million on advertising. MGM Resorts International Inc., Caesars Entertainment Corp. and The Peterson Cos. have combined to spend $17.7 million on advertising supporting the construction of a casino in Prince George’s County and the legalization of table games such as blackjack at every Maryland casino.

The proponents’ issue committee is For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc.

Spending is expected to increase. Penn National has donated $21.6 million to its ballot issue committee, giving it an unspent balance of $3.6 million. The Pennsylvania-based gambling company spent $38 million fighting a casino program in Ohio in 2008 partially to protect a casino it owned in Indiana.

Company executives expect their Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W.Va., to take a financial hit if a gambling site is approved at National Harbor. A study released Monday by Sage Policy Group Inc. said more than 30 percent of Charles Town’s customers come from Maryland.