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$42 million into a failed effort to defeat Question 7

Penn National Gaming, Inc. said Wednesday that it was “disappointed” that Maryland’s Question 7 casino expansion issue was passed by voters after the company took part in funding the most costly campaign in state history.

After investing more than $42 million into a failed effort to defeat Question 7, which allows the state to add a sixth casino in suburban Prince George’s County, Penn National is expected to bid on the gaming license when the process begins in January.

The regional casino company wants to place the casino at its Prince George’s county racetrack.

Gaming analysts, however, placed odds on the company winning the license as slim to none.

“We believe the company has blown any chance of winning the additional license in Maryland, given the $40 million-plus it spent in its attempt to defeat the gambling expansion measure,” Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon told investors.

Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski said Penn National will “face the most adversity of the names under our coverage as a result of the positive ballot outcome.”

On Wednesday, investors weighed in, sending shares of Penn National tumbling 1.29 percent on the Nasdaq Global Select Market, with the stock price closing at $39.47, down 53 cents.

MGM Resorts International, which wants to build an $800 million hotel-casino development in Prince George’s National Harbor complex, spent almost $41 million in favor of Question 7 and will enter the formal bidding process for the gaming license.

“Starting today, MGM’s talented team of designers and resort experts begin work on our proposal for a great destination resort for the people of Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland,” MGM Resorts Chairman Jim Murren said in a statement after the issue was approved. “We stand ready to compete with all comers for this license and the privilege to bring an MGM resort to National Harbor.”

In addition to the sixth casino license, Question 7, which passed by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, allows Maryland’s existing and planned slot machine-only casinos to add table games while lowering the state’s gaming tax from 67 percent.

“The addition of table games in Maryland will create thousands of new, good-paying jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to support education throughout the state,” Caesars Entertainment Chairman Gary Loveman said Wednesday.

The company contributed almost $5 million to the committees favoring Question 7.

Caesars is partners with Rock Gaming in what had been planned as a $300 million slot machine-only casino in Baltimore. Loveman said previously the scope of the project would be expanded if Question 7 passed.

“In Baltimore, the passage … will enable us to create 500 more jobs, invest millions more in our facility, expand our offerings and bolster the tourism industry by attracting more out of town visitors to the region,” Loveman said.

Penn National operates a casino in neighboring West Virginia that is expected to lose business from competition in Maryland.

In a statement released Wednesday, Penn National said the company “spent a lot of time, energy and resources to educate voters on the flaws of Issue 7.”

Penn National executives complained that the company didn’t get a fair shake initially from Maryland to have its racetrack be considered for the casino site. Penn National also operates a casino in Maryland’s Cecil County.

“There remains a question as to the validity of the outcome given a legal challenge that has been filed by an outside group as to what constitutes a ‘qualified voter’ in this election,” the company said in a statement. “We’ll be exploring that issue in the coming days.”

Janney Montgomery Scott gaming analyst Brian McGill said much has to be accomplished before the Maryland casino becomes a reality. He said the project could open in the summer of 2016.

“Penn has repeatedly indicated they feel the process is unfair, and we think it is likely that they sue to stop and/or delay construction if they lose the request for proposal,” McGill said. “It is also possible that other lawsuits or roadblocks arise which could delay opening into 2017.”


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