Question 7: Jobs, schools boon or predatory affliction?

WASHINGTON – The decision to expand gambling in Maryland is right around the corner for voters, and leaders on both sides of the contentious issue are moving their highly expensive campaigns into the final stretch.

Supporters and detractors of the gambling expansion option, referred to as “Question 7″ because of its placement on the November ballot, have stated their cases in campaign commercials and initiatives that have cost more money than was spent in the entire 2010 gubernatorial campaign, according to a report from

Critics, such as Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, say an unsavory pastime such as gambling belongs outside of the state’s borders.

But many in the business community believe the additional gambling allowed by the measure – which, if approved, would permit the creation of a high-end casino in Prince George’s County – will create jobs, fund schools and capture Maryland dollars currently pouring into gambling havens like West Virginia. Among these supporters is Jim Murren, the chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, which would develop and operate the Prince George’s facility.

The $800 million-“full-scale destination resort” will create 2,000 construction jobs, says Murren, followed by 4,000 full-time jobs at the casino which will pay a yearly salary in the mid-$50,000s. It would house luxury dining and shopping establishments and a permanent Cirque du Soleil show, and would host the kinds of high-profile fights and performances seen at other MGM venues, he says.

“Maryland has found itself to be uncompetitive with West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, which have full-scale gaming with table games,” Murren tells WTOP. “That has encouraged Marylanders to travel to those states, and has made the Maryland casinos uncompetitive and underperforming.”

This will be a “full-scale destination resort,” he says, “along the line of some of the major resorts in the country.”

Maryland’s chief financial officer sees a less glamorous future for the state if Question 7 passes.

“(We are) in a race to the bottom with West Virginia to see how we can fleece our people more and more,” Franchot tells WTOP. “We should be competing with Virginia, which has no gambling and is cleaning our clock right now as far as employment and business reputation.”

Greater access to gambling traditionally leads to higher rates of gambling addiction, divorce, bankruptcy and “all sorts of social ills” among Marylanders, Franchot says.

“Why the state of Maryland would partner with this predatory sector and bring them in to Maryland is just beyond me,” he says.

Franchot is particularly critical of the special session on gambling this summer where the General Assembly engaged in “back-room, sweetheart deals,” he says. Gambling companies got a 25 percent tax cut immediately after Marylanders had their taxes raised, he adds.

“Any people that love slot machines and love gambling: You can’t possibly be in favor of the political corruption that that three-day special session in August represented, which resulted in this referendum,” Franchot says. “Let me urge everyone to vote against Question 7.”

Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report. Follow Paul and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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