UPPER MARLBORO — Despite reservations voiced by three council members, the Prince George’s County Council approved an agreement between the county executive and MGM Casinos. “We’re proud of this agreement,” said Brad Frome, deputy chief of staff for the county executive. “We believe it’s great for a good number of county residents.” The council voted 7-1 […]
UPPER MARLBORO — Despite reservations voiced by three council members, the Prince George’s County Council approved an agreement between the county executive and MGM Casinos.
“We’re proud of this agreement,” said Brad Frome, deputy chief of staff for the county executive. “We believe it’s great for a good number of county residents.”
The council voted 7-1 on the community benefits agreement, which could not be amended due to county and state laws mandating the agreement must be negotiated and executed by the county executive and the developer, said county officials. Councilman Will Campos was not present for the vote.
Council Chairman Mel Franklin called the agreement “historic” because it is the first and only community agreement signed with any of Maryland’s six approved casinos.
“We look forward to working with MGM during the construction and operation phases of this new facility to ensure that the components of this historic agreement are fully implemented and that County residents reap the economic benefits of this world-class destination resort scheduled to open in the summer of 2016. We are bringing the world to Prince George’s County and MGM National Harbor is a great beginning.”
Mary Lehman, who cast the only dissenting vote, called the agreement “stingy.”
MGM is expected to earn $600-700 million annually in revenue, but only promises $1 million up front to provide job training, Lehman said.
“Considering the size of this facility and the impacts that I don’t even think we have even begun to consider…I am going to reluctantly vote no on this matter,” Lehman said.
Lehman also voiced concern about a perceived lack of concern for potential negative effects the casino could have on surrounding communities, like traffic problems and lower property values.
“I don’t know if you can really compensate a local community for intangible things like quality of life,” Lehman said.
The community benefits agreement, which County Executive Rushern Baker III signed with MGM June 24, outlines requirements for MGM to “make its best effort” to hire county residents and contract minority businesses, as well as containing a slew of other promises regarding educational programs and internship opportunities.
Councilwoman Karen Toles commended the agreement for a commitment to meeting community needs.
“I think what we have created here is to state that we’re not only willing or have a desire to create jobs for county residents that need jobs right now,” Toles said, “but we’re creating an opportunity for our young people.
Councilman Obie Patterson and the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, however, have questioned the agreement’s outline for enforcing promises it makes to the community.
Emily Grannis, a Jack Nelson Legal Fellow for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a previous report by The Sentinel called the agreement “troubling” because of its language. Patterson said there is “nothing to hold MGM totally accountable” in the agreement.
“I do believe the county may have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a community benefits agreement that would have a long-lasting impact on the county,” Patterson said. “At the end of the day, will we have done our job such that the citizens will benefit? Or will we have developed a platform to make millionaires billionaires?”
Patterson “reluctantly” voted yes to the agreement, which he said lost its leverage during the revision process.
Eric Olson voted yes to the agreement, but said it was only because there was no possibility to further amend it.
“The question before us today is to vote for a community benefit agreement or no community benefit agreement,” Olson said. “Unfortunately, that is the case before us.”
Olson cited concerns of a lack of resources for people who may be negatively affected by the casino’s arrival, like those with gambling addictions.
“I do hope that when the monies come in that a good amount of that is put toward social services, is put toward mental health, and put to other needs that may arise and that already exist in our communities,” he said.
The agreement requires MGM to make its “best efforts” for at least 50 percent of its workforce to be made up of county residents, and at least 20 percent of construction. MGM also agreed to award contracts to county-based minority businesses, according to the agreement.
Additionally, the agreement requires MGM to donate $400,000 annually to job training and to community non-profits after an initial $1 million donation, while also providing educational opportunities, youth internships, a high school culinary program and contractor mentoring programs, according to a press release from the county executive’s office.