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Baltimore tourism agency likes Question 7

Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore

Baltimore’s tourism agency rose in support of Maryland’s expanded gambling referendum Friday, saying that legalization of table games would make a future city casino more attractive to outsiders, thus bolstering tourism.

Proponents have been on a public figure blitz in the past week, with Gov. Martin O’Malley, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. all appearing in commercials urging Marylanders to vote for a casino in Prince George’s County and table games at every state casino.

The elected officials have emphasized that they’ll make sure casino money goes to education, in response to charges from Penn National Gaming Inc. that there’s no legal guarantee that will happen.

Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, focused on the economic benefit of voting for expanded gambling. Polling has indicated weak support for Question 7 among city voters.

“The expansion of table games in Maryland would not only mean hundreds of new jobs in Baltimore, but provide further opportunities to grow the tourism industry through increases in visitor volume and spending,” Noonan said in a statement released by For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc. “A ‘yes’ to Question 7 will also bring the opportunity to market Baltimore as a world-class gaming destination to out of state visitors and make us more competitive with neighboring states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.”

Caesars Entertainment Corp. has said it will invest an additional $25 million into its already-planned casino on Russell Street if table games are legalized. The company has also said it will forge partnerships with hotels and restaurants in the city, potentially generating a boost in the local economy.

Renderings of the proposed Harrah's Baltimore casino on Russell Street.

Chad Barnhill, general manager of the future Baltimore casino, said gambling expansion would make the future facility more of a destination.

“Question 7 makes sense for Baltimore’s economy, its tourism industry and for Maryland’s schools,” he said. “By keeping money in Maryland and attracting out-of-state customers, we will increase revenues from tourism.”

For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc., the ballot issue committee responsible for advertising seeking to influence the referendum, has spent $27.1 million doing so. Caesars is responsible for $4.6 million of that total. MGM Resorts International Inc., which wants to build a casino at National Harbor, has spent $21.2 million.

Penn National has responded with $29.1 million of its own, after pumping $4 million into its campaign account Friday. The Pennslvania-based gambling company doesn’t believe it will get a fair shot at bidding for a casino license in Prince George’s County, putting the long-term viability of Rosecroft Raceway, which Penn National owns, in jeopardy.

The company also fears its Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W.Va., would take a revenue hit if MGM builds a resort casino at National Harbor.