MGM National Harbor Maryland

An artist’s rendering of the MGM National Harbor, set to break ground in Maryland by the end of April (Image: MGM Resorts)

Let it not be said that MGM Resorts sits around and knits doilies;  the Nevada-based gaming giant announced it will start work on its new Maryland casino imminently – just four months after the state granted it a license to build the $925 million resort in Prince George’s County, and only 11 miles from the White House. Speaking to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, Lorenzo Creighton – the new casino’s president – said that his company could be ready to start building MGM National Harbor as early as next month.

“We are preparing to break ground as quickly as possible at National Harbor,” Creighton said. “We are working closely with Prince George’s County officials to start as soon as possible. As soon as we have the proper permits and approvals, we won’t miss a day, because we are committed to beginning the flow of benefits as quickly as possible. Our team is prepared to move dirt in the next three weeks, before the end of April.”

Quite a Gamble

The plans for the property are ambitious. The towering 18-story casino – to be built on 50 acres of land near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge – will dominate the district on its completion. The almost 1 million-square-foot resort will include 3,600 slots and 140 table games, a 1,200-seat theater, a 300-suite hotel, and 35,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as restaurants and retail stores.

It’s believed that the casino will create as many as 4,000 jobs in the area when it opens in the summer of 2016, as planned. MGM chairman Jim Murren recently vowed that the MGM National Harbor would be “the most successful commercial [gambling] resort in the United States . . . outside of Las Vegas.”

The plans for the MGM National Harbor are expected to be approved at a planning commission meeting on April 10. Meanwhile, County Council Chairman Mel Franklin introduced a bill this week to rezone the site for casino gaming.

Contract War

MGM saw off bids from Pennsylvania-based operators Greenwood Racing and Penn National Gaming in winning the lucrative contract. Six consulting firms hired by the state during the process recommended MGM’s proposal over the competition in nearly every category – from projected revenue and marketing expenditure to local economic impact.

However, council members said this week that a mechanism should be put in place that would make MGM accountable for prioritizing the hiring of local workers and using local companies during the development of the casino.

“We have almost 900,000 citizens that we represent, and we are here to protect and watch out for [them],” said council member Mary A. Lehman. “We appreciate the money you are talking about. . . . But let’s be clear: We haven’t seen a penny yet.”

The Free State chose to legalize casino gambling in 2008, and then voted to expand it in 2012, with the introduction of table games such as craps, roulette and blackjack, which had previously been illegal. The state’s first casino – Hollywood Casino Perryville – opened in 2010, and since then Maryland has added four more casinos, with a fifth – Horseshoe Casino Baltimore – scheduled to open later this year, as the state looks to compete with the casinos of Delaware and West Virginia.