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Md. casino vote could cost W.Va. $1 billion in revenue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A Maryland vote to legalize table games could have a $1 billion impact on the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town over the next decade, according to a recent study funded by Maryland's gaming lobby.

Maryland residents are set to vote in November on Question 7, which would legalize table games and green light construction of a new casino in Prince George's County.

The ballot referendum is drawing significant attention in Maryland. Casino companies are on both sides of the issue and have spent more than $32 million on television ads so far this year.

On one side of the issue is Charles Town casino owner Penn National Gaming, which according to The Associated Press has spent $18 million on an ad blitz opposing Question 7.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley last week fired back against those ads, calling them "a bunch of West Virginia casino hooey."

On the other side of the issue is MGM Resorts International, which has spent nearly $14 million on ads urging voters to approve Question 7.

MGM is hoping to build a casino at National Harbor in Prince George's County near Washington, D.C.

To gauge the impact, the group that calls itself For Maryland Jobs & Schools - a political action committee funded in part by MGM - asked the Sage Policy Group to study how much money Maryland residents have spent at the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town.

The study, which was released Monday, found that Maryland residents have spent at least $1.2 billion at the Charles Town casino over the past decade.

The study was based on data from the West Virginia Lottery and consumer tracking surveys. Those surveys estimated that Maryland residents made up between 30 and 37 percent of the customer traffic at the Charles Town casino.

The Charles Town operation is the cash cow for the West Virginia Lottery.

The casino brings in about $14 million in table game revenue each month - far more than the state's three other racetrack casinos combined. Of that $14 million, the Lottery gets a cut of about $5 million in table game tax revenue on a monthly basis.

Sage chairman and economist Anirban Basu estimated the Charles Town casino could reap another $1.1 to $1.5 billion from Maryland residents over the next 10 years, should voters reject this year's ballot issue.

Basu said the success of Question 7 would position Maryland's gaming program to be more competitive.

He said adding a new casino in Prince George's County would cause more Maryland residents to spend gambling dollars at home.  

"Moreover, the addition of table games would allow Maryland's facilities a chance to finally compete with Charles Town on a level playing field," Basu said.

He said Maryland's lack of table games has severely limited its ability to fully compete with Charles Town.

Charles Town has faced increased competition from Maryland this year. The Maryland Live! Casino, which has more than 3,000 slot machines but no table games, opened in Anne Arundel County in June.

But Basu said Charles Town's revenues have declined by only 6 percent since that casino opened. The decline was due to losses in slot machine revenues; Charles Town's table game revenue hasn't changed since Maryland Live opened.

"The implication is that it is possible to compete with Charles Town, but Maryland's lack of table games has severely limited its ability to fully compete to date," Basu said.

West Virginia Lottery spokesman Randy Burnside on Wednesday declined to comment on the Sage report.

"I cannot speak to numbers that were gathered by an outside source and not collected by our lottery," Burnside said.

West Virginia Lottery officials have said they are closely monitoring the situation in Maryland and preparing for potential impacts on this state's gambling industry.

While out-of-state competition has hurt the state's Northern Panhandle casinos, officials have said the Baltimore-Washington D.C. metro area is a much larger market and could possibly support more casinos.

However, Lottery officials are being cautious. Revenue officials have lowered forecasts for table game revenue in coming years to account for out-of-state competition.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. 


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