Gambling expansion appeared to be headed for victory in Maryland early Wednesday morning with 80 percent of precincts reporting after a tightly contested, $90 million fight.
If the lead holds, a new casino will be built in Prince George's County while table games and round-the-clock operation will be allowed statewide immediately. MGM Resorts International likely would operate the new facility -- the company is planning an $800 million luxury casino at National Harbor -- though the location would be open for bid.
While table games and round-the-clock operation can go into effect immediately, it would take some time for casinos to implement the changes. A new Prince George's casino cannot go into operation until July 2016. To make up for the added competition, tax rates would be lowered on existing casinos.
Both sides contributed more than $90 million in the fight, shattering the previous record of $34 million held by the 2006 governor's race, in which Democrat Martin O'Malley unseated Republican Bob Ehrlich.
MGM contributed nearly $40.8 million to support the expansion, while Penn National Gaming contributed more than $42 million to Get the Facts - Vote No on 7, the anti-gambling expansion committee. Penn also operates a casino in West Virginia that draws many Maryland residents as well as a slots site in Perryville, Md., near the Delaware border.
State budget analysts have said that money put in the state's Education Trust Fund would increase by $174.5 million by fiscal 2017 thanks to gambling profits if the measure passes, but they also project that the state would reduce the amount of money spent on education from the state's general fund. How much education spending will actually increase was a major point of contention throughout the campaign.
Residents cast their votes on an Election Day that saw long lines snake out the doors of some Prince George's polling places. Priscilla Soto, 54, said she waited two hours to cast her no vote on Question 7 in Cheverly.
"I think it brings a sleazy element to the county," she said. "It's not the people who want to do the gambling -- it's the greedy people who want to make all that money."
Martha Mansui, 64, and Mariano Mansui, 80, barely had to wait at all in Landover to cast their yes votes. "We need jobs in Maryland," Martha said. "We need to keep that money here."
Marian Dutch, 66, said it was her first time ever voting while waiting in line in Suitland. "I just figured it was my time," she said. "One vote might count."
Dutch said she had an opinion on the Question 7 fight, but that it was best left in the voting booth.