Rosecroft gaming bill faces backyard resistance

April 06, 2010|By Ovetta Wiggins | The Washington Post

Given the chance, the odds would be long that Prince George's County residents would approve a referendum to allow legalized card games at a financially troubled racetrack in the county.

Religious leaders don't like it.

Civic leaders aren't fond of it.

And local civil rights leaders say the games could move Prince George's, the country's most affluent majority-black county, several steps backward.

The Maryland Senate recently passed a bill that could bring Las Vegas-style table games, including poker and blackjack, to Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington.

Under the legislation, which is now in a House committee, voters statewide would be asked to decide whether poker and blackjack should be allowed at the racetrack.

If the measure and referendum are passed, Rosecroft Raceway - where simulcast racing ended in May because of contract disputes - would be the only venue statewide where card games would be allowed. Voters approved 15,000 slot machines at five locations in 2008.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat, the bill's sponsor and a staunch gambling opponent in the past, previously said that expanded gambling was a "desperation move" to help keep the track afloat.

Mark Vogel, a developer who hopes to purchase Rosecroft, has said that hundreds of jobs could be lost if card games are not allowed at the track.

On Monday, the track's current owner, Cloverleaf Enterprises, told employees they should begin looking for new work because operations will cease April 19 if the card-game measure doesn't pass. "Your future is now in the hands of the Maryland legislature," the notice reads in part.

Muse also cited job losses as his reason for sponsoring the bill.

The Innovation Group, an Orlando, Fla.-based firm that provides analyses and forecasts for the gaming industry, found that table game operations would bring 1,250 to 1,500 jobs to the track. Revenue could reach up to $300 million, with as much as $145 million coming from outside Maryland, according to the study, which was commissioned this year by Mark Vogel Companies.

"I know Vogel is working it hard, and I know we want to do something to keep it open," said Del. Dereck E. Davis, a Prince George's County Democrat. "But I just don't see [the referendum] happening. ... But of course, anything can happen" in Annapolis.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, tried unsuccessfully last month to add an amendment to the bill that would have required not only a majority of statewide voters to approve the referendum, but a majority of Prince George's voters to approve it as well.

"You could have 52 percent of the state approve it, and 65 percent of the county not want it, and it still [could] be thrust upon" Prince George's, Pinsky said. "In terms of public policy, I think it's ridiculous."

Many delegates say the chances of the bill's passage in the House appear slim because delegates want to see the state's slots program up and running before any additional gambling is approved.

William Cavitt, vice president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, a civic group in Fort Washington, said the state has "unrealistic expectations" regarding gambling.

"We're opposed to it," he said. "They seem to have expectations that money will fall out of the sky. ... It's not a way to make money."

June White Dillard, president of the Prince George's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she worries about addiction and increased criminal activity.

"Gambling preys on the lowest-income people," Dillard said. "They play the slots, they buy the lottery tickets and they are least able to afford it. ... Making it tables doesn't make any difference."

But Vogel has said that slot machines and card games are very different. He says that they attract a different clientele, and that the racetrack would probably draw people from various parts of the region, not solely Prince George's.

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