Oct. 22--Raising the stakes among the three companies vying to build a casino in Prince George's County, Penn National Gaming promised Monday to plow nearly $320 million into the county's health and educational systems if it secures the license.
Penn National wants to build a $700 million Hollywood Casino Resort at Rosecroft Raceway, its beleaguered harness racing track in Fort Washington. The Wyomissing, Pa.-based casino operator said its casino would boost the state's horse racing industry.
Penn National presented its casino plans during a site visit and public meeting Monday with the state's Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, which will choose among the three bids for the state's casino to be located closest to Washington.
The commission's visit Monday to Rosecroft was the first in a series of site visits and public hearings this week. On Wednesday, Greenwood Racing will present its plans for a Parx Casino Hotel and Spa on a site a few miles south off Indian Head Highway. On Friday, MGM Resorts will present its proposal for a site next to Interstate 95 at National Harbor.
The plan Penn National unveiled Monday entails razing the grandstand at the more than 60-year-old harness track to build a large casino, hotel and racing facility. A 300,000-square-foot casino would have 3,000 slot machines and 100 table games.
Penn National said both live and simulcast racing would continue at Rosecroft Raceway, and it hopes to schedule 54 live racing days for next year -- the same as this year.
"It's an opportunity to bolster two industries in the state ... if we integrate our racing operation into a casino operation," said Tim Wilmott, Penn National's chief operating officer, during a public presentation
To sweeten its bid for the state and Prince George's County, Penn National said it would give "100 percent of its profits" back to the community.
"This profit-sharing proposal will touch each and every resident in Prince George's County," Wilmott said in a statement.
It said it would amend its application to commit to contributing $100 million to build out the new Prince George's County Hospital satellite neighborhood health care system, $219 million to create a supplemental retirement plan for county public educators and $200,000 a year for community organizations and nonprofits in the County Council district where the casino would be located.
Penn National said the numbers in its profit-sharing proposal are based on estimated earnings, suggesting its actual contributions may be different.
The casino operator would still make money off the operation, however. Penn National is in the process of splitting the company into a real estate investment trust with its many properties and an operating company. The casino operation would make rent payments to the real estate trust and pay management fees to the operating company.
Forest Heights Mayor Jacquline Goodall applauded the company's financial commitment to the hospital and the teachers' retirement fund. She said the location at the racetrack seemed the most appropriate for a casino and would have the least impact of all the proposals on area traffic.
"This is secluded," she said in an interview. "No houses would be impacted. For me, it's a no-brainer."
An evening public hearing on the proposal drew dozens of members and supporters of the state's standard bred horse racing industry, who argued that slots at Rosecroft are needed to keep the industry viable.
Among them was Sharon Roberts, whose family farm in Brandywine has 18 horses, some of which race at the harness track.
"If slots don't come here, we'll have to sell the farm. It would be devastating," said Roberts, also executive vice president of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners' Association, which represents owners, trainers and drivers.
Robert L. Davison Jr. also owns, trains and races horses.
"As a resident of Fort Washington, I believe Rosecroft would be the best location; there's plenty of room," Davison said.
In addition to the casino, the Rosecroft Raceway project also would feature a new grandstand, restaurants, a 258-room hotel and spa, a conference center that could serve as a 2,500-seat concert arena or banquet facility, and 5,000 parking spaces. It would employ 1,600 people.
Penn National, which started as a racetrack operator, has 28 facilities in 10 jurisdictions, including casinos, racetracks and racetracks with casinos, operating primarily under the Hollywood brand. In Maryland, it also operates Hollywood Casino Perryville. It has opened six facilities similar to its Rosecroft proposal.
Not everyone supported the project.
State Del. Veronica Turner, who represents the 26th District, which includes the proposed casino sites, said she's gotten a lot of emails from constituents opposing both Penn National's and Greenwood Racing's sites, citing concerns about raffic and the presence of a casino near residential neighborhoods.
"They'd rather have it in an area that's nonresidential, and they're saying the best site is National Harbor," she said.