MGM Resorts Helped Pay Tysons Casino Opponents' Expenses
MGM Resorts Helped Pay Tysons Casino Opponents' Expenses

MGM Resorts Helped Pay Tysons Casino Opponents' Expenses

TYSONS, VA — A coalition of political and business leaders, including the owners of MGM National Harbor Hotel and Casino in Maryland, paid for a phone survey and provided buses to take Tysons casino opponents to Richmond to speak with lawmakers.

“Guess how much we estimate that MGM spent to tell you that casinos were a horrible, terrible evil thing?” Virginia Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Burke) asked an audience at a town hall meeting at the Kings Park Library on Saturday. “MGM spent about a million bucks.”

Marsden was the chief patron Senate Bill 675, which, if passed by the Virginia General Assembly, would have granted the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors authority to put a referendum on a future ballot, so that voters could decide if they wanted a casino built in Tysons.

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Amid vocal opposition from residents of the greater Tysons area, SB 675 was eventually held over until next year by the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations.

At Saturday’s town hall meeting, Marsden described the casino as a fix for the floundering Metrorail system and as a possible new revenue stream for Fairfax County to counter a decline in tax revenue caused by a drop in commercial real estate values.

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“You either look at the future and figure this stuff out and turn it over to the wisdom of the citizens of this county in a referendum where all the facts are presented,” he said. “Not the hysteria of $1 million coming out of MGM trying to scare people with absolutely no facts.”

Although Patch has been unable to find evidence of the $1 million that Marsden said MGM used to defeat SB 675, the gaming company was a member of a coalition that provided some assistance to citizens groups that opposed the bill.

The day Marsden introduced SB 675 in the general assembly, PLUS Communications, an Arlington-based public affairs company associated with MGM, released the results of a phone survey the coalition had financed.


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GS Strategy Group conducted the survey from Dec. 4-11, 2023, calling hundreds of residents in Reston and the greater Tysons area to gauge support for the proposed casino. The survey results were released to members of the press and included in documents that casino opponents left with lawmakers in Richmond.

On Jan. 19, PLUS filed paperwork with the State Corporation Commission to form the No NOVA Casino corporation. Daniel Vu, the company’s managing director of research, was named as the new corporation’s “incorporator.”

As SB 675 made its way from committee to committee, No NOVA Casino used the Speak4 app to send out text messages instructing residents to “Act Now! Send a letter and say NO to a casino in Tysons.”

When recipients clicked the link in the text message, they were taken to a website where they could choose to send a message to their state delegate, Fairfax lawmakers or the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations.

In October, the Reston Citizens Association teamed up with Reston Strong, Rescue Reston, Reston 2020, and Save Our Sunrise to form the Citizens Opposed to Reston Casino. In early January, the group was investigating the costs of renting a bus to transport members to Richmond to testify before the general assembly, when they were approached by a representative of PLUS Communications.

“PLUS offered to provide the transportation with no strings attached, and we (RCA) accepted,” said RCA President Lynne Mulston said, adding that the company paid for three trips to Richmond. “They had some signs and T-shirts printed up and asked if we wanted any. Our No Casino Coalition accepted because we are competing against a casino developer who is spending millions of dollars to ram this through.”

Patch reported in February that Comstock Holding Companies, which is the developer seeking to build a casino on Metro’s Silver Line, had contributed more than $1.2 million to the campaign committees of state and local elected officials between January 2022 and February 2024.

“We were already organizing our volunteers to go to Richmond and would have procured our own buses or carpooled to Richmond,” said Linda Walsh, president of the McLean Citizen’s Association in an email. “The bus he offered was merely convenient, it did not change our plans. His company has provided some yard signs and T-shirts. Signs are being requested and posted by individuals — not by paid third parties.”

Both Mulston and Walsh stressed that PLUS Communications had approached them after the groundswell of grassroots opposition to the casino proposal had formed.

“It was clear that while our objective of blocking a casino in Tysons was shared, our reason for opposing were not,” Walsh said. “The citizens’ grassroots coalition realize that while we are on the same side of this issue, we did not want to join our efforts. Our goals are to call our own shots, control the messaging and keep our database of supporters and their contact information private so they won’t be used for different efforts in the future.”

Once RCA learned that the Reston Association’s efforts succeeded in excluding Reston as a possible location for a casino, CORC was disbanded.

“RCA began reaching out to our sister organizations in Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Great Falls to offer our help and resources,” Mulston said. “A new coalition was formed: NoCasino Coalition. This name reflects that we do not believe that anyplace in Fairfax County ‘needs’ a casino.”

A PLUS Communications spokesman confirmed that their coalition sought to support the grassroots effort that had already formed in opposition to the casino rather than lead it.

Since the citizens groups had their own resources and methods of distributing their message, PLUS Communications spent a fraction of the $1 million Marsden had claimed it had, with the survey being the greatest expense. A person familiar with the cost of public opinion surveys said it likely cost around $40,000 to $50,000.

“We are proud to have played a supporting role in helping concerned citizens in the Greater Tysons area ensure their voices were heard on this issue,” Richard Cullen Jr., a partner at PLUS Communications, told Patch in email on Sunday. “The local community was at a significant financial disadvantage but proved that a genuine grassroots movement carries great power.”

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