A state senator in Maryland told the Washington Post that the Penn National Gaming company paid more than $340,000 for a mailing that the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force sent to Maryland households in August opposing a bill to expand gambling in the state.
According to the Post, Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County), who voted against Maryland’s same-sex marriage law, said a Penn National vice president told him the casino company gave the money for the mailer to the DCI Group, a D.C. based consulting firm. The Post reported that Muse said the DCI Group then gave the money to the Task Force.
At that time, Monique Hall, a member of the NGLTF Action Fund board of directors, also served as a vice president for the DCI Group, a Republican-leaning consulting firm. Sources familiar with DCI Group told the Blade in August that DCI had been retained by one of the Maryland casinos to campaign against the gambling bill.
Hall, DCI Group, and Penn National have not responded to calls from the Blade seeking comment. NGLTF spokesperson Inga Sarda-Sorenson could not be immediately reached for comment.
The gambling bill calls for allowing a sixth casino to operate in the state in Prince George’s county and would allow casinos approved for five existing sites in Maryland as well as the one in P.G. County to operate table games. The existing sites are currently required to operate only slot machines.
Casino owners involved with the five existing sites, including Penn National, are vehemently opposed to allowing a new casino to open in P.G. County, saying the new casino would take away customers from their locations. They have spent millions of dollars on TV commercials calling on voters to vote no on the gambling expansion measure on the November ballot.
At the time it sent out its mailing in August, NGLTF said the gambling bill, introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley, would be detrimental to efforts to save the state’s same-sex marriage law, which will come before voters in a referendum in the November election.
NGLTF noted that if the Maryland General Assembly approved the gambling bill – which it did in late August — it would come before voters in a referendum in November at the same time that the state’s marriage equality law appears on the ballot in a separate referendum.
The group noted that a gambling referendum would likely attract a larger than usual number of conservative voters to the polls who oppose both gambling and gay marriage. This would make it more difficult for marriage equality advocates to persuade voters to cast their ballot in support of same-sex marriage, the Task Force argued.
“We do not have a position on gambling, but rather on marriage equality,” NGLTF Deputy Executive Director Darlene Nipper said in a statement released in August.
“The purpose of the marriage equality mailer, funded by the Task Force Action Fund, which like other nonprofits includes many donors, some named and some who are not, is to get marriage equality over the finish line,” Nipper said. “It was sent to a portion of registered Democratic households in Maryland.”
NGLT has declined to disclose who paid for the expensive mailer, saying only that it was funded by contributors to its Action Fund, which gets involved in political campaigns in support of LGBT equality.
Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the organization leading the effort to uphold the same-sex marriage law, said the group’s internal polling has shown that a gambling referendum would have no impact on the marriage equality vote.
“We’ve been looking at this carefully for a long time and have yet to see any data that suggest there are any voters who would come out in the election because of the gaming initiative who were not already going to be out for a presidential election or to vote on the question of marriage equality,” he told the Blade.
However, at least one pollster, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a gambling referendum could bring out more conservative voters than usual, despite the relatively high turnout expected for a presidential election.
Gay Republican strategist Tom Synhorst, the founder and chair of the DCI Group, also did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment on what specific role DCI is playing in the campaign to oppose the gambling bill or whether it acted as a conduit for transferring funds for the NGLTF mailer from a gaming company.
The DCI website describes it as a public affairs company that “Helps corporations navigate their most challenging political, legislative and regulatory problems anywhere in the world.”