Md. slot machine parlor vote may come Monday night

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 3:01 PM

A key vote by county officials on a zoning measure needed for Maryland's largest slot machine facility could finally take place Monday night after repeated delays and long debate on a proposal with big implications for the state's slots plan.

Approval by the Anne Arundel County Council would mean the site that accounts for nearly one-third of the possible 15,000 slot machines in Maryland could move forward.

The council is scheduled to consider two zoning measures. One would allow the Cordish Co. to move forward with a plan to put 4,750 slot machines near Arundel Mills Mall. Another would steer possibilities for a slot machine site to Laurel Park, a horse racing track in the county.

The council delayed a vote two weeks ago, when only four of its seven members were present to hear hours of testimony from residents. An illness, a vacant seat and a recusal left nearly half of the council's seats empty. The vacant seat was filled last week.

The Cordish Co. already has received a license from a state commission. The proposal is the only one in the county that included the required licensing fee, which was $28.5 million for the proposed number of machines.

If approved by local officials, the site could open in December 2011. The proposal calls for a 215,000-square-foot facility, including a 125,000-square-foot gaming floor.

Estimates indicate that site alone could gross as much as $500 million a year, with about $243 million going to the state and about $25 million to the county, as both face big budget deficits.

But residents who live near the popular shopping center say the area already is crowded, and others have said they fear a large gambling facility will attract crime and drive down property values.

Supporters of the Laurel Park site say a slots parlor at the mall would devastate the track, and they point out that the state's slot machine plan was touted as a way of preserving racing after neighboring states have lured away Maryland gamblers to tracks across state lines.

However, a proposal to put slot machines at Laurel Park by bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp. was rejected by the state commission earlier this year when the company failed to submit the required licensing fee.

If the deal near the mall crumbles, the state commission could seek to rebid a slots facility in Anne Arundel County. The commission would have discretion on when to set a deadline for new bids.

State officials' hopes that slot machines would help Maryland's dismal overall budget picture have run into a series of setbacks.

The most recent one happened last week when the state's Video Lottery Facility Location Commission rejected a proposal by developers for a Baltimore site. The Baltimore City Entertainment Group repeatedly missed deadlines for a revised plan and failed to come up with an additional $19.5 million to expand an initial proposal from 500 machines to 3,750 machines, which would have been the state's second-largest site. The Baltimore site will be reopened for new bids next year.

Two other sites have the green light to move forward, but even one of those has run into unexpected hurdles. The Ocean Downs race track near Ocean City had been scheduled to open next Memorial Day, but structural problems and asbestos concerns at the facility apparently will delay its opening. Ocean Downs is licensed for 800 slot machines.

Penn National Gaming already has approval for 1,500 machines at its site in Cecil County near Interstate 95. Work is under way to open that facility in October 2010.

Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment last year for up to 15,000 machines in five areas, but the recession has had a big impact on potential developers. A proposal in Allegany County near Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland was rejected earlier this year after developers failed to put up the licensing fee.