Senate passes gaming bill; Baltimore City delegation urge Caesars to hire local residents, including ex-cons

UPDATE: the Maryland Senate in a 28-14 vote Friday evening passed the bill to expand gambling with table games and sixth casino in Prince George’s County.

Eight Democrats joined six Republicans in opposing the bill backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senate President Mike Miller. The bill passed largely without change from the committee version after the Senate rejected over two dozen floor amendments offered mostly by Republicans.

The House Ways & Means Committee held a hearing on the bill, but will not vote on it until at least Monday.

By Dana Amihere

Baltimore City delegates pushed Caesars Entertainment executives about their company’s plans to employ local residents, including former convicts, and invite minority business participation into the construction of their downtown casino.

“Baltimore is a tale of two cities,” Del. Jill Carter said. Despite pockets of affluence, there are thousands of residents who come back to the city every year with criminal records looking for work, Carter said.

“I understand that you don’t want people with 20 theft convictions working around money, but everyone’s not a thief,” she said.

Struggling to make ends meet

Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Democrat like all the city delegates, said that she wouldn’t support any venture that wouldn’t ensure jobs for city residents struggling to make ends meet. People will do what they have to survive, whether it’s an honest job or dealing drugs, Glenn said.

“We need to give people who have had run-ins with the law second chances to make good livings, have health care and so forth so that they can be good constructive members of the city, ” Glenn said.

Trevor Busche, Caesars vice president for corporate development, said that while it’s premature to say who would be hired, “This is Baltimore’s casino. When people come they want to see Baltimore residents working there.”

Minority participation a must

Glenn was also concerned that minority business enterprises (MBEs) get adequate requests for proposals for subcontracting work. “Right now all of the construction trades are hurting,” she said. “I’d like to have some input on the RFPs from the onset. That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Having headed an MBE for 30 years and co-founded the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce, Del. Barbara Robinson said that she’d like to see local participation in a hiring advisory group. There have been problems with primary contractors failing to hire MBE subcontractors, Robinson said.

Busche said that Caesars intends to comply with state and local MBE guidelines as well as closely working with the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs.

Open for business

Busche said that his company and the delegates shared an interest in getting the casino up and running as soon as possible so they could start bringing in revenue. “We want receipts, and we want a casino,” he said.

Delegation chairman Curt Anderson asked the executives when they’d like to see a sixth casino to open after their anticipated 2014 completion date. Currently, the bill requires at least 30 months gap after the Harrah’s in the city opens.

“I’d ask for 10 years, but I don’t want to delay the state’s progress,” Caesars’ attorney Michael Johansen said. The city delegation reached a consensus of three years, an extra six months, a period Busche called “fair and balanced.”