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Lottery panel wants bids for P.G. casino by mid-May

ANNAPOLIS — The state Video Lottery Facility Location Commission has set May 10 as the due date for bids from companies that want to build and operate a casino in southern Prince George’s County.

The panel unanimously approved a 104-page request for proposals on Thursday in a two-hour meeting that included a one-hour, 18-minute closed session, setting in motion a series of deadlines and reviews.

The RFP will be advertised starting on Wednesday. Any casino that is built in Prince George’s will not be allowed to open until 30 months after the planned Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore opens, or no later than July 1, 2016.

“We’ve been talking about Prince George’s County having a facility for at least a year if not longer now, so you would think companies who are interested in building a facility have already done a lot of preparations,” said Donald C. Fry, the commission’s chairman. “So, I think the time frames we’ve set for them to give us their responses and to the RFP are within a reasonable period of time.”

The new casino license was authorized after Maryland voters approved Question 7, a ballot measure created after the General Assembly passed legislation in an August special session that — among other things — created the state’s sixth casino license and legalized table games such as blackjack and poker, pending voter approval.

MGM Resorts International Inc. is the frontrunner to win the license. The Las Vegas-based casino company wants to build a resort facility with 3,000 slot machines at the sprawling National Harbor development on the shore of the Potomac River.

Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Rosecroft Raceway in nearby Fort Washington, is another possible applicant. The company already operates Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County, so it would have to give up that license if it were chosen to operate a casino at Rosecroft.

But Penn National spent more than $40 million fighting expanded gambling last year, in large part because company executives felt the odds of winning a license bid were firmly in MGM’s favor. A Penn National spokeswoman has said previously that the company may bid on the license, but did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Fry also noted that technically a company could bid to build a casino somewhere other than National Harbor or Rosecroft. The law says the facility must be built “within four miles of the intersection of Bock Road and St. Barnabas Road.”

“We certainly anticipate that this is the one location that has received public interest by more than one gaming interest,” Fry said. “Obviously, from the public referendum debate, there were two companies that have expressed interest. So there could be more than two, there could be two, or there could be one.

“You never know what the final outcome will be. … But I would think it’s probable, from everything that we hear publicly, that there will be multiple bids for a Prince George’s County location.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s — the lawmaker perhaps most responsible for passage of the August gambling legislation — said in an interview earlier Thursday that he has never favored one location over another, even though debate last summer centered around National Harbor’s appeal as a casino site.

Miller, in his 27th year leading the Senate, said Thursday that Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III should not have publicly endorsed National Harbor as the future site of a Prince George’s County casino.

“That was Rushern Baker’s position; my position was either-or,” Miller said. “I started out saying that it had to be Rosecroft [Raceway], and then National Harbor entered into it later, and then the county executive expressed, or opined, for National Harbor, which I thought was a mistake, as much as I like National Harbor.

“I thought the decision should be made by the commission. But we’ll let the commission make the decision and move forward.”

Miller said he won’t be closely watching the site selection process.

“No, it’s in the hands of the commission,” Miller said. “I have no idea if even Penn is even going to put in a bid. But I think the voters have stated their choice, and I know the commission is going to be very objective. They’re going to look at economic benefits, they’re going to look at jobs and they’re going to look at the revenues to the state.”

Miller predicted, however, that the commission’s decision wouldn’t necessarily end the process.

“We have to be very careful what we say, because it’s going to wind up in litigation no matter what,” he said. “This is a money bill, it’s a money issue and if somebody spends $50 million to block it, the facility, they’re not going to give up at this point in time.”

Also on Thursday, the state slots commission approved plans by Evitts Resort LLC — the licensee for a future casino at Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort — to increase the number of slot machines it intends to open with to 558, from 500.

The facility is expected to open mid-summer and could also include 10 table games, assuming renovations are completed to replace conference space that was lost when Evitts could not secure private financing and was forced to scale back its original construction plan.