Allegany casino plan abandoned

October 29, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

CUMBERLAND -- A Virginia developer said yesterday that he has abandoned plans to build an Indian-run casino in Cumberland because of concerns raised by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

"We are pulling out of Allegany County because of Mr. Taylor's stance," said James L. Silvester, the developer heading the proposed project, which he estimates would cost $75 million to $100 million and bring as many as 9,000 jobs.

"We are still pursuing a casino and are now looking at other sites," he said.

He declined to say whether any of those sites were in Maryland.

Mr. Taylor, D-Allegany, said yesterday that he wrote Mr. Silvester this week that a gaming casino atop Wills Mountain was "not advisable or doable at this time."

Among Mr. Taylor's concerns were the lack of precedent for an Indian-run gaming facility outside a reservation, the lack of state laws to regulate casino gambling and the limited access to Wills Mountain, the developer's preferred site for a casino-hotel.

"Mr. Silvester asked me to give my support to his project to make it a go," Mr. Taylor said. "He now has the answer to his request. I would withhold support based on those [and other] reasons."

Mr. Taylor did not rule out casino gambling in the future. But he said such proposals would be better addressed after a governor's commission has concluded its study of the competitive forces facing the state's horse racing industry. Among those is the rapid proliferation of legal gambling in Maryland and neighboring states.

Mr. Silvester, president of BAS Breckinridge Group, a consulting, investment banking and mortgage company in Winchester, Va., said the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma remains interested in a casino project. He said sites under consideration have historical links to the Shawnee.

Larry Nuckolls, the tribe's governor, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Silvester needs the affiliation of an Indian group to proceed. Under federal law, Indians can operate gaming businesses on their own land, regardless of state regulations. The Shawnee are said to have connections to Western Maryland.

Mr. Taylor pointed out that the state's Division of Historical and Cultural Programs has deemed the Shawnee claims to the Cumberland area "very fleeting and tenuous."

Cumberland church leaders, who were organizing to protest the casino venture, said they welcomed Mr. Silvester's withdrawal from Allegany County. Even so, they said they are committed to fighting any such project in neighboring counties in West Virginia or Pennsylvania.

"We really don't wish a casino anywhere or on anybody else," said the Rev. Richard H. Jewell, pastor of Kingsley United Methodist Church. "We are going ahead with our plans as if nothing had transpired. We intend to fight this no matter where it is."

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