O'Malley blasts Penn National for casino ads

October 03, 2012|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley unleashed a withering tirade against Penn National Gaming over its ads in the state's referendum over expanded gambling in Maryland, accusing the company of using "false and baseless" arguments to protect its West Virginia casino.

O'Malley tore into Penn National's ad campaign at the tail end of a news conference called to discus proposed improvements to the state's power grid. He accused the Wyomissing, Pa.-based casino company of misrepresenting Maryland's commitment to use gambling-generated dollars for education.

"They're free to put falsehoods and lies on the air, as am I to call them out on the falsehoods and the lies," the governor said. 

The comments were O'Malley's most outspoken to date in support of gambling expansion, a topic for which he has shown limited enthusiasm in the past.

Penn National has been arguing in its more than $18 million ad campaign against the expansion proposal, which would allow a casino in Prince George's County and extend gambling to table games, that Marylanders have no guarantee the money the measure would direct toward education would stay in education.

"It's a bunch of West Virginia casino hooey," said O'Malley. He charged that Penn National wanted to protect its Charles Town, W. Va., against a loss of the revenue it takes in from Marylanders -- especially residents of affluent Montgomery County who could be lured to a new casino in Prince George's.

Most of Penn National ads make the argument that there is no guarantee that the money earmarked for education is the bill will actually be used for that purpose. That is literally true, because one General Assembly can always reverse a previous legislature's decisions and governors can propose dipping into dedicated funds to close future budget gaps.

But O'Malley said Maryland's commitment to education spending is unquestionable after a 45 percent increase in funding since 2006.

"Their argument in essence is saying we don't invest in education here," he said. "It's all in the law and it's all part of our budget."

Making the issue personal, O'Malley said he "would have expected more" of Penn National CEO Peter   Carlino.

"What's the guarantee a house won't fall on Mr. Carlino today?" the governor said.

Penn National's ad campaign is being countered by a rival effort financed largely by MGM Resorts International, which hopes to operate that Prince George's casino at National Harbor. Together the two sides have raised more than $32 million to spend on Question 7.

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