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Md. casino decision: National Harbor poised to be next Sin City

MGM Resorts International is just a few months away from realizing its grand plan for a $925 million casino complex. Last week, the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission voted 5 to 2 for MGM's National Harbor proposal, granting the hotel and casino chain the final casino license the state will issue. MGM lobbied hard to expand gambling in the state during the 2012 elections.

The proposal needs a couple more stamps of approval before MGM can break ground. Prince George's County's Planning Board and the County Council must both approve the project. It could be late spring or early summer before the 23-acre development begins to take shape.

MGM's location appears to be the main selling point. The site overlooks the Potomac River, and the planned 18-story hotel will be noticeable from the District of Columbia, adding a little glamour to an historically conservative cityscape. More than the aesthetics, though, the site is fairly free of infrastructure challenges.

Another proposal, from a Pennsylvania developer that wanted to build off Indian Head Highway, received the other two votes. The development, in fact, was well-received by the entire commission for a number of reasons. First, the location is in a part of St. George's County that could benefit more from the infusion of cash and jobs that comes with this kind of development. The project also offered a 61 percent tax rate on slots revenue, while MGM offers only a 56 percent rate.

The problem with the plan lay in the necessary changes to the infrastructure. The developer would have to address traffic issues on Indian Head Highway but could not guarantee that the state would approve the roadwork, much less fund it.

The MGM National Harbor will hit the market after the planned debut next year of the Horseshoe in Baltimore. The Horseshoe is the fifth gambling property in Maryland, sharpening the state's competitive edge with adjacent states. When the MGM National Harbor is finished in 2016 (if all goes as hoped), state officials believe that Maryland will be the go-to location for casino resort tourists -- a veritable Vegas on the Potomac.

Source: The Washington Post, "MGM gets the nod to build Maryland’s sixth casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s," J. Freedom Du Lac and John Wagner, Dec. 21, 2013

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