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National Harbor businesses hedging bets on Question 7

Red and blue yard signs urging a “yes” vote on Question 7 line the curved road that leads to National Harbor, the potential home of resort casino a Nevada gambling company dreams of opening.

The road signs promoting, among other things, an MGM Resorts International Inc. casino at the posh Prince George’s County development, are nothing compared to the multi-story “Vote Yes” sign that hangs from a National Harbor parking garage, the first building drivers approach.

Some businesses here want a sixth Maryland casino built at National Harbor, but advertising for the controversial referendum question – which, if approved, would also legalize table games such as poker at every slots parlor in the state – is almost non-existent along the carefully planned National Harbor streetscape, along which businesses operate below high-rise apartment complexes.

Christina Stowe, general manager at Cadillac Ranch All American Bar and Grill, said the response is a bit mixed among businesses in the development, but for the most part business owners and employees want MGM to build its casino so they can reap the rewards of increased foot traffic throughout the week and weekend.

Stowe and others said businesses in National Harbor depend heavily on weekday convention traffic coming from the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. A casino would give people another reason to come around.

She also thinks it would make $11 for parking at one of National Harbor’s garages worth it for some Virginia residents across the Potomac River.

Still, “I think it’s kind of a mixed bag,” Stowe said. Business owners have to be careful about how they deal with Question 7, she said, for fear of alienating a potential customer.

Indeed, up and down the streets of National Harbor, only a satellite office for MGM Resorts International and a tea shop have “Vote yes” stickers stuck to their front windows.

Lisa Cascone, a manager at the Public House restaurant, said that most businesses – include the one she worked for – hoped Maryland voters would vote yes on Question 7, but admitted there was some concern that restaurants and other attractions built by MGM would whisk business away, especially those in the hospitality-industry, like bars and restaurants.

But more foot traffic has to be a good thing, Cascone said. Right?

“We don’t know,” she said. “We hope.”