By Rachael Pacella
Capital News Service
The debate over expanding gaming in Maryland will ultimately be decided by the people, but to help them pick, casino companies on both sides have now contributed more than $26.7 million to campaigns for and against Question 7.
Question 7, the gaming referendum, would expand gambling in Maryland by extending casino hours, adding tables games and allowing an additional casino to be built at National Harbor in Prince George's County. The gaming referendum fight has been prominently featured in television ads.
A total of $14.1 million has been contributed to the pro-expansion committee For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc., most coming from MGM Resorts International, the potential operator of a casino at National Harbor.
A casino at National Harbor could take business away from surrounding casinos, including those owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. So far Penn National has spent has spent $13 million to campaign against expansion.
Penn National owns the Hollywood Casino Perryville in Maryland, but gaming analyst James Karmel said the company is really concerned about the effect gaming expansion in Maryland could have on its Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia 80 miles away.
"The millions they spend on ads could potentially be offset if they win," Karmel said.
The most recent campaign finance statement from the pro-expansion committee For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc., released Wednesday, shows MGM has contributed an additional $3 million since a report issued last week. That puts MGM's total contributions to the pro-gaming expansion campaign since August at $11.4 million.
Some of MGM's contributions were in-kind, meaning they provided services and then reported the monetary value of those services as contributions.
For Maryland Jobs and Schools Inc. has also received $2.3 million from CBAC Gaming LLC, a group led by Caesars and Rock Gaming that was granted a license to operate video lottery terminals at a location in Baltimore this summer. Peterson Development Companies, the developers of National Harbor, have also contributed $400,000. They've spent $13.6 million.
Penn National has contributed $13 million to the committee against expansion, Get the Facts-Vote No on 7. They've spent $10.9 million.
Through its own committee Penn National Gaming Inc. has spent $36,401.
Jared DeMarinis , the director of Candidacy and Campaign Finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said both committees have been consistent and accurate in reporting their expenditures. He said they are required to report everything in Maryland.
He said a more detailed report will come out Oct. 12, showing how the money has been spent.
Some observers have noted the irony in seeing casinos spend money on both sides of a gambling debate.
"There's a touch of hypocrisy quite often in the kind of marketing that's been done," said Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Right now opinion on the issue is tied, according to a poll of registered voters released Wednesday by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. The poll shows opponents of gaming expansion leading by only 1 percentage point.