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Question 7 prevails in tight referendum race

Maryland voters decided to go ahead with an expansion of casino gambling in the state Tuesday, as 52 percent of voters approved Question 7 after both campaigns endured hours of razor-thin margins.

Approval means a Prince George’s County casino license will go out to bid and table games will be legalized at every state slots parlor.

Supporters — including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III — proclaimed victory just before midnight at the campaign’s election night party at National Harbor, where fireworks fell over the Potomac River in celebration.

The campaign against gambling expansion, led by Penn National Gaming Inc. and it’s $42 million of campaign funding, conceded victory shortly afterward.

“We are disappointed in the results tonight, and continue to believe that the taxpayers in Maryland deserve a better deal,” said Kevin McLaughlin, the campaign’s spokesman. “A better deal was possible if the governor and legislature had taken the time to listen to other voices and fashion a gaming solution that fully served taxpayers, schools, and the citizens of the state.”

McLaughlin said the fight was not over, as he had doubts about the constitutionality of the result. A lawsuit was filed last week detailing that case.

Baker, joined by Del. Jay Walker, who represents the district that includes National Harbor, Peterson Cos. Chairman Milt Peterson and former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry, returned to a familiar campaign refrain: the money from expanded gambling will go to Maryland schools, despite what opponents claim.

“Sometimes you can’t believe a comptroller,” Baker said, taking a swipe at Peter Franchot, who has been a leader among those who oppose Question 7.

Walker, who advocated for a Prince George’s County casino as a member of the House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee, touted improvements that would be made to Indian Head Highway due to local impact grants that are part of the taxation formula on state casinos.

He also said the casino would bring in more businesses and high-end retail to Prince George’s County.

“We need to grow our business tax base,” Walker said.

MGM Resorts International Inc., which wants to build at National Harbor, will now develop a bid for the casino license. The company spent more than $40 million fighting for the law, passed by the General Assembly in an August special session to end months of political gridlock that were punctuated by the failure of the legislature to pass a complete budget package in April.

James J. Murren, MGM’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement that Maryland voters had “delivered a message

“Sorting through an onslaught of dishonesty, voters chose to support progress,” Murren said. “They want good jobs and more money for their kids’ schools. … No one expected such a vicious campaign, but common sense prevailed and Maryland will certainly benefit from our hard work to fight a campaign of unrestrained distortion.

“Starting today, MGM’s talented team of designers and resort experts begin work on our proposal for a great destination resort for the people of Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland. We stand ready to compete with all comers for this license and the privilege to bring an MGM resort to National Harbor.”