MGM Resorts wins license for Maryland casino; Murren credits team effort

BALTIMORE — MGM Resorts International won a license for a new casino near the nation’s capital in Maryland on Friday.

A state commission voted 5-2 in favor of Las Vegas-based MGM Resort’s proposal to build a $925 million resort near the Potomac River at National Harbor with a 300-suite hotel, casino and seven restaurants. The nonsmoking casino plan includes 3,600 slot machines and 140 table games such as blackjack and roulette.

Maryland voters approved a casino in Prince George’s County last year after lawmakers agreed to expand gambling in a special session.

MGM Resorts Chairman Jim Murren told the Review-Journal on Friday the more than two-year licensing effort was a tribute to the team that put the proposal together. He said the next steps are to secure all the zoning and site plan approvals from the county and area leaders.

He said the company’s community outreach in Prince George’s County would continue.

“This has been an extraordinary work product and collaboration,” Murren said. “There is a tremendous feeling of success.”

Murren said the resort will create 2,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs.

Murren said the National Harbor’s project design was “cutting edge” and broke away from the “traditional casino design” elements.

“We heard loud and clear that Maryland didn’t want another slots in a box,” Murren said. “We made a business decision from the beginning to be different in the design and development process. I feel we accomplished that.”

MGM Resorts has been active in the northeast. The company is seeking approval from Massachusetts gaming regulators to operate the only casino resort license in the western part of the state. The company has proposed a $1 billion resort complex in Springfield, Mass.

The license is the sixth granted in five years in Maryland and four casinos have already opened. This casino could not open until July 2016, or two years after a casino being built in Baltimore opens.

Wall Street quickly praised the Maryland announcement, saying investors will benefit now that the license has been awarded.

“Despite the overall regional gaming industry exhibiting signs of saturation in many markets across the country, we actually believe this license to be particularly attractive given the proximity to the underserved Washington D.C. feeder market,” JP Morgan gaming analyst Joe Greff told investors.

Penn National, based in Wyomissing, Pa., had proposed a $700 million casino at the company’s Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County, about 13 miles from Washington. The Hollywood Casino Resort at Rosecroft Raceway would have included slot machines, live table games and a poker room. The plan also includes a hotel with a pool and spa and a multipurpose event center. Rosecroft also would have featured horse racing.

Maryland Casino LLC, a subsidiary of Greenwood Racing, proposed the $800 million Parx Casino Hotel & Spa on a 22-acre parcel in Fort Washington with a hotel and entertainment venue. Greenwood Racing owns and operates Pennsylvania’s highest revenue-generating casino, Parx Casino.

Commissioners expressed concern about economic projections by consultants for Penn National and had questions about transportation infrastructure near the proposed Parx casino. Commissioners also noted that they were pleased with the casino design proposed by MGM. They said MGM also stood better to draw customers because of their casinos in other parts of the country, like Las Vegas.

Don Fry, the commission chairman, said he thought the amenities at MGM were stronger. He also said he believed it would be a destination resort.

Review-Journal writer Howard Stutz contributed to this report.

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