National Harbor casino project debated in Annapolis

(Photo courtesy rob boudoun via Flickr)

On the prettiest days, the waterfront at National Harbor sparkles. Visitors pack sidewalk cafés and stroll the sunlit Potomac River shoreline.

But it's a far different scene 40 miles away in a dark and crowded hearing room in Annapolis, where a battle is raging over the future of the harbor and it's gambling prospects.

In the next few days, the House Ways and Means Committee will decide whether or not to approve a huge destination resort and casino at National Harbor, and they're hearing it from both sides.

Deborah Mahon lives in one of the residential high rises at National Harbor. On Tuesday, she joined with a clergy group fighting desperately to keep gambling out. She’s afraid a casino will mean more traffic and possibly even more crime.

Others, such as the Rev. Jonathan Weaver of Mount Nebo A.M.E Church, agree.

“We hardly think that having an industry that breeds crime is the way for us to go,” the reverend says.

The Maryland Senate has already has approved a bill which allows full casino table games at Maryland five permitted slot parlor sites. It also puts to Maryland voters the question of whether or not a Prince George’s location, most likely National Harbor, will be licensed to be the state's sixth gaming location.

Approval in the House is far from certain. Tuesday's hearing is considered crucial and drew a crowd of special interests, including the CEO of gaming giant Caesars. His company is planning a casino in Baltimore but is supporting the Prince George’s expansion, despite the competition it will mean.

“Principally, because table games means 500 new jobs, it means a much bigger and more competitive business and it allows us to invest at a larger scale so we can offer a higher level of amenity and service to the people who will visit us in Baltimore,” says Gary Loveman, the CEO of Caesar's Entertainment.