By Carl Straumsheim, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
County executives Ken Ulman, Rushern Baker III and Ike Leggett framed the referendum on expanding gambling in Maryland as a conflict between economic development and out-of-state interests.
"Just like I want Maryland to beat West Virginia on Saturday in football, I want Maryland to beat back this out-of-state money in November," Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said at a press conference Thursday.
Pennsylvania-based casino operator Penn National, which runs several casinos including Charles Town in West Virginia, has been spending money campaigning against expanding gambling in Maryland, reports The Washington Post.
The idea that gambling money would go out-of-state is what "tipped" Ulman into voicing his support for the first time publicly to expand gambling in Maryland, according to the Howard County Times.
Maryland lawmakers voted to allow expanded gambling but members of the public must cast their ballots on the issue in November before it becomes law. The referendum, which appears as Question 7 on the ballot, would allow a casino to open at National Harbor in Prince George's County—the sixth casino in the state. It would also enable existing casinos to stay open around the clock and offer table games like blackjack and roulette instead of just digital representations.
Ulman stressed the initiative's impact on local education budgets as a reason why Maryland voters should cast ballots in favor of gambling expansion in November.
"We know that there is a burden to continue to be able to find the revenues to invest in our children's education," Ulman said. "This is one way to enhance the Education Trust Fund and help us accomplish that goal. It's not the only way; it's one way."
As the bill was being debated in the General Assembly, Republicans accused Gov. Martin O'Malley of giving tax breaks to gambling companies, while raising taxes on Marylanders making more than $100,000.
In Prince George's County, some religious leaders worry that a casino could bring increased crime to their neighborhoods.
Attempts to reach expanded gambling opponents Thursday were unsuccessful.
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III accused competing casinos in neighboring states of trying to distort the debate by running political ads opposing the expansion in Maryland.
"Make no mistake: This is about Maryland versus West Virginia," Baker said. "People running ads against having a sixth site in Prince George's County and expanding table games are from West Virginia."
Baker also distanced himself from the idea that existing casinos in Maryland are opposing the expansion to protect their own bottom lines.
"We took care of Anne Arundel County—made sure they're held harmless—and other facilities. I think people are satisfied with the way the bill came out of the General Assembly," Baker said.
David Cordish, developer of Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills, has not commented on his position, according to The Daily Record.
"People in Maryland need to understand," said Baker, "this is about protecting resources and dollars in the state."
Elkridge Patch Editor Elizabeth Janney contributed.
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