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Voters deadlocked on Maryland casino issue

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Published on: Friday, November 02, 2012

By Tauren Dyson

Uncertainty continues to surround Question 7, and Maryland voters remain nearly deadlocked on the issue.

Forty-eight percent of likely Maryland voters oppose expanding gambling in the state — which would include adding a casino site at National Harbor — against 46 percent of voters who favor the measure, according to the most recent Washington Post poll. But some county residents say a casino in Prince George’s will bring more problems than solutions.

In fact, former Delegate Gerron Levi said the casino would burden the county with gambling and alcohol addictions.

“Placing 24-hour adult-only addictive entertainment with free alcoholic beverages in the middle of a residential community, where about 25 percent of the residents are children, will really transform the surrounding community,” Levi said. “Three thousand plus slot machines in the county would create between 3,847 to 20,334 new problem/pathological gamblers at a cost of $132 million to $376 million dollars.”

Levi attributes those gambling addiction statistics to a study from the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable.

But politicians point to increased revenue and high paying jobs that a casino would bring to the county as the main reason to support Question 7.

“We estimate we’ll make $40 to $60 million coming to us,” County Executive Rushern Baker said. “That would be the biggest job generator and the biggest revenue generator the county has seen.”

“There’s nobody else offering us (Prince George’s) any jobs,” said Delegate Veronica Turner, D-District 26. “These aren’t cheap jobs ... we’re talking over $50,00 a year.”

Turner said county residents looking for opportunities at the casino would get training from the hospitality programs at Bowie State University and Prince George’s Community College. According to the official Question 7 website, voting yes for the measure would bring 12,000 jobs to the state.

Perhaps the promise of newfound prosperity is winning over county residents. According to the Washington Post, a poll found 52 percent of Prince George’s residents favor the measure versus 44 percent who oppose it.

As for claims from county politicians that a casino at the National Harbor would bring “high paying jobs,”  Levi isn’t convinced of that either.

“These are not family-sustaining jobs, one-third to one-half of the jobs are part-time,” Levi said.

Still, many think the revenue from a casino would bring much needed money to cash-strapped county schools, helping to fund projects such as construction of a new Oxon Hill High School and major improvements to Crossland High School.

Baker said revenue generated by a casino would be set aside by the state in an education fund for all Maryland public schools.

“None of us would’ve voted for or supported Question 7 if we didn’t know it wasn’t going to education,” Baker said.

But Levi anticipates a different result.

“For every $1 they set aside from gaming revenue for education, they subtract that $1 from the general fund for education,” Levi said.

As for whether she thinks the measure has a strong chance of being defeated, Levi is cautious about offering any bold predictions.

“I think it is too close to call; it’s a jump ball but I am hoping our tall man will snatch the victory,” Levi said.

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