Slots bill vague on Arundel location

Though 3 sites are eligible in county, legislators assert Laurel Park is target

November 04, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

When Gov. Martin O'Malley made his pitch last week to bring thousands of electronic gambling machines to Anne Arundel County, local lawmakers were sure about where the slots would end up: Laurel Park.

But that's not written in stone. In fact, Laurel Park is not specifically mentioned in the proposed constitutional amendment and accompanying state bill to permit slot machines.

Both pieces of legislation say that slots would be located in the county anywhere within two miles of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. If approved, interested parties would have to apply for a license.

The vague description also makes two other sites attractive: Arundel Mills mall and the $1 billion Arundel Preserve development of homes, apartments, hotels, shops and offices. Either could petition for the gambling machines. Arundel Mills reportedly had expressed interest to lawmakers about slots in 2004.

County Executive John R. Leopold and state lawmakers stressed recently that if slots come to Anne Arundel County, they would come to Laurel Park. Leopold, a Republican who generally opposes slots, said if they are legalized, he would fight to keep the machines at Laurel Park.

Joseph C. Bryce, O'Malley's legislative director, has also said Laurel Park is the designated target for slots.

Del. Ben Barnes, a Democrat whose district includes Laurel Park, said the racetrack is the target of the current legislation. That belief, he said, is based in part on his discussions with the governor's office and State House leaders.

"It's clearly intended to be Laurel Park. It's definitely Laurel Park. There's no other qualifying location," he said.

O'Malley's slots plan calls for the state to buy or lease machines through Maryland's lottery agency. The plan identifies five sites for slots licenses, with a limit of 15,000 machines.

The sites are Baltimore City and the counties of Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester.

Anne Arundel would be slated to get up to 4,250 machines, the most of any jurisdiction.

The legislation borrows heavily from the slots bill that narrowly passed the House in 2005. But the bill stipulated that slots not take away jobs from Laurel Park.

In 2004, representatives of Arundel Mills expressed interest in slots, said Del. Mary Ann Love, co-chair of the county's legislative delegation. She said in 2005 that she didn't want slots to go to the mall, one of the state's top tourist destinations.

Gene Condon, vice president and general manager of Arundel Mills, did not return calls.

Michael Caruthers, president of Somerset Construction Co., which is overseeing Arundel Preserve, could not be reached for comment.

Del. Pamela G. Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said that a slots location "doesn't fit" with Somerset's development plans for Arundel Preserve.

She also said that she was unaware of the mall expressing interest in slots.

While there appears to be countywide support for slots -- a new Anne Arundel Community College poll said 61 percent of respondents favored legalizing them -- lawmakers said they want to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to handle the influx of traffic.

"I want to make sure Anne Arundel gets a fair share of the proceeds," Beidle said. "If Anne Arundel is going to have the impact, then we should get more of a share than the counties who don't have it."

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