Speaking of Casinos

Speaking of casinos – referring to the previous post – we’ve been hearing from people in Prince George’s County for more than a year now about the MGM National Harbor.  And they aren’t contacting us to complain about the gambling.  Even people we’ve talked to who are opposed to legalized gambling in general are willing to consider it a necessary evil to help fund badly needed improvements to county schools.

While their specifics may vary, what the complaints we’ve been hearing have in common boils down to the extraordinarily and inappropriately special treatment the MGM has been getting, since its inception, from the Prince George’s County government.

For the record, we don’t mean to cast aspersions on all County elected officials, although who could blame us if we did. Prince George’s County is, after all, famous for having had a County Executive whose wife was apprehended escaping with ill-begotten funds stuffed in her bra. In retrospect, spending that money on breast enhancement surgery probably would have been a better idea. The County has, in other words, a certain reputation for unsavory and illegal behavior by some of its elected leaders.

So we’re not pointing to anyone in particular. Let’s just say that there’s something wrong – inappropriate at least, illegal at worst – with the relationship between the MGM and the County.  For example, the “Community Benefit Agreement” between MGM and the County is where MGM made important commitments to hire minority employees and contractors. The problem is that compliance with those promises is, according to the Agreement, up to MGM. They can, in other words, simply assert that they’re in compliance and that’s that, the gospel according to MGM.

So why doesn’t the public, if they’re so concerned that MGM isn’t in compliance, ask to see the data? Because the Community Benefit Agreement has non-disclosure language in it that protects MGM data and documents from public scrutiny. Now how convenient is that? Think “transparency in government” that our elected officials are always promising, but without the transparent part or with “absolutely no” in front of the phrase.

Turns out that the non-disclosure language also covers building permits. To save time, so we’re told, MGM is allowed to approve its own building permits – and then inspect their own construction? No, that last part can’t be true, although slack county supervision of MGM construction activity might explain the problem that Washington’s Fox 5 was talking about earlier this year on August 31. The Fox story we’re talking about is called, “Preliminary Report: Faulty wiring at MGM National Harbor could pose safety Risk.”

Faulty Wiring at MGM National Harbor
The Fox 5 article and video is about what happens when local government recklessly allows a special interest to write, approve and possibly also to inspect or at least influence the inspection of its own work.On one hand, someone in PG County is saying…That new information, the county says, supported the conclusion that there was no imminent danger. The county acknowledges that corrections need to be made to the fire pump and electrical system, but says the property does not need to be shut down to make the repairs.

And then later in the same article…

The preliminary correction order, written by a high-ranking electrical inspector for the county, said, “Such areas should be closed and said pump immediately taken off line and all connections terminated until the corrections are made.” (The bold type is our doing.)

Continuing from the article…

The document goes on to say, “If we have failure with this installation, the magnitude and potential loss of life is inevitable.” (Again, we added the bolding.)

So, which is it, we’re wondering? “No imminent danger” or “the magnitude and potential loss of life is inevitable”? How, logically, can PG County officials be so sure that the “inevitable” doesn’t occur tomorrow or at any particular time in the distant or near future? Apparently, the MGM National Harbor isn’t the only one gambling with the lives of its customers, a/k/a “constituents.”

(Note also Faulty wiring cited in early investigation of 6 year-old’s electrocution at MGM National Harbor.”)

Did you know that he Community Benefit Agreement that we’ve been talking about requires that MGM accept $100,000,000 – That’s one hundred million dollars in case all those zeros have rendered you dumbfounded. – from local investors, at least $30 million of which had to come from PG County residents, the identities of which are protected by the Agreement’s non-disclosure document? That’s $100 million of private, dividend paying ownership interest in the wildly profitable MGM National Harbor. From “private investors,” as they’re called in the Agreement, who the County refuses to identify? To which all we can say is, “What’s up with that?!”

One other thing. The whole idea… The entire basis for allowing the MGM National Harbor to exist in the first place was that tax revenues from the casino would benefit public education in PG County and elsewhere in the state as well.

When the MGM first opened in December of 2016, it had 3237 slot machines and 126 gaming tables. As of the end of August 2018, it had 3133 slot machines and 198 gaming tables. That’s a 3.2% reduction in slot machines, not including the fact that an unknown number have been moved upstairs, away from the main gaming floor, to make room for more gaming tables. At the same time, the number of gaming tables has increased by 57.1% on the main floor of the casino.

“So what?”Well, the “So what?” part is that casino revenues from gaming tables are taxed at the rate of 20% while revenues from slot machines are taxed at 56%. That’s right, while Prince George’s County schools are still struggling to provide quality public education, the MGM has been quietly re-mixing its casino to reduce the taxes it pays and increase profits it distributes to its owners. All of its owners, including the still unidentified $100 million local private investors.

People have asked what we can do to help. The answer, unfortunately, is not much. We don’t have the resources or the time, to be honest, to change county government, to make the county’s elected officials do their job. But you can do something. Those of you who are concerned about MGM and its special relationship with your county government. You can protest. Gather peacefully on public property in front of the Golden Lion and hold up your signs and raise your voices to the media cameras that will be there. Start with just a handful of people, then 20, 50 and eventually, before you know it, you’ll have hundreds of concerned citizens demanding an open and comprehensive review of what MGM’s behavior and the complicity of your county government.

Why will that protest accomplish anything? Because, you’ll ignite a boycott of the MGM until they release data about their compliance with the Community Benefit Agreement – and the names of the people who put up the $100 million. Until an audit of MGM determines the effect on taxes for public schools of the way they’re remixing their casino floor. And you just might pull it off, because the MGM National Harbor stands to lose millions if your voices turn away significant numbers of their gaming customers.

FYI, the non-disclosure language in the Community Benefits Agreement that protects MGM from public scrutiny is almost certainly illegal. Your elected officials may tell you otherwise with great authority and confidence. Don’t buy it. They’re bluffing. Find pro bono counsel and call them on it.

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