WASHINGTON -- The three gambling operators trying to win a coveted casino license in Prince George's County, Md., made their formal, chest-thumping pitches last week. Now, the seven members of the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission will consider the bidders' projections and promises and do some due diligence before picking a winner.
The high-stakes prize: permission to build a Las Vegas-style resort in a part of Maryland near Washington and Northern Virginia -- a destination property that could generate more than $1 billion a year in gross gambling revenue, according to one applicant's public analysis.
A decision on whether the state's sixth and final casino license would go to MGM Resorts International, Penn National Gaming or Greenwood Racing is likely to be made before Christmas, said the commission's chairman, Donald C. Fry. But he said that in awarding each of the state's first five licenses, the commission had only one applicant left at this point in the process and, therefore, finds itself in unfamiliar territory.
"This is the first time it's been truly competitive at the decision-making stage, which is what the legislature always intended to have," Fry said. Considering multiple proposals "complicates things," said Fry, a former Democratic state senator who was appointed to chair the commission in 2008 by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. "I shouldn't say complicates, but it changes the dynamic."
On Friday, the last day of presentations, Fry was visiting one of the three sites proposed by the three competitors: a dusty gravel parking lot overlooking the Potomac River near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that MGM Resorts International would like to transform into a gambling mecca. By the summer of 2016, the 23-acre site could house MGM National Harbor, a $925 million casino that would have 3,600 slot machines, 140 gaming tables, a 300-room hotel tower, several celebrity chefs, a concert theater, a spa and other amenities.
Traffic rumbled past on the nearby Capital Beltway as men and women in dark suits crowded around architectural renderings and models of MGM National Harbor, a dramatic, national monument-inspired property that would have its own reflecting pool.
"I have to win this, or my wife will kill me," MGM Resorts Chairman Jim Murren joked. "She's from Maryland."
The Prince George's casino license was approved by Maryland voters in November as part of a dramatic expansion of gambling in the state, including the addition of live-action table games and 24-hour casino operations. MGM spent more than $40 million to push for the referendum's passage.
Penn National Gaming spent more than $42 million to fight the plan, most likely to protect the profits of the company's cash cow, Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., according to analysts. Now, with gambling revenue falling significantly in Charles Town, the casino has been laying off dealers and taking some of its table games offline. The director of the West Virginia Lottery told reporters last week that the casino's woes are directly related to Maryland's gambling growth.
The news came as Penn National officials appeared before the Maryland commission to present a proposal for a $700 million Hollywood Casino at Rosecroft Raceway, with 3,000 slot machines, 140 table games, a 258-room hotel, a convention center and a new grandstand for Rosecroft's historic harness-racing track.
On Wednesday, an affiliate of Greenwood Racing made a pitch for a $761 million Parx Casino Hotel & Spa on what is now a 22-acre wooded lot in Fort Washington, Md. The company proposes to install more slot machines (4,750) and more table games (170) than the other operators.
The Parx proposal includes a $100 million pledge to fund improvements to traffic-choked Indian Head Highway. Greenwood also offered to pay a 67 percent slots tax, which is 5 percent higher than the state-mandated rate. MGM and Penn would keep the rate at 62 percent.
Penn made a splash with its own proposal by promising to turn over all of its profits, in perpetuity, to benefit the county health care system as well as a new retirement benefit for teachers and other community organizations and nonprofit groups. The total giveaway, over the first 15 years of operation, would be well over $300 million, the company said.