Public to voice thoughts on slots

Council to hear opinions on Arundel Mills proposal

April 02, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,

Neighbors of Arundel Mills get their chance Thursday night to tell a divided Anne Arundel County Council what they think about legislation that would allow the state's largest slots parlor to be built near the mall.

As many as 100 people are expected to squeeze into the council's Annapolis chambers for the public hearing, which was scheduled to collect public opinion on zoning changes needed for the billion-dollar project to go forward. County Executive John R. Leopold submitted the legislation and is urging its passage, but many of the mall's neighbors - and at least two of the seven council members who will decide the matter - oppose it.

The parlor, proposed by Baltimore-based developer the Cordish Cos., would include 4,750 slot machines. It could also bring in $30 million in revenue for the county.

The Cordish proposal is by far the most ambitious casino idea floated, so a county veto of it would be a major blow to the state's Democratic leadership. The state is counting on slots revenue to plug a huge structural budget deficit, and Cordish's casino could generate a major portion of the anticipated $600 million in annual revenue.

Cordish representatives are expected to make a presentation at the 7 p.m. hearing, a company spokeswoman said yesterday, making Thursday night the first time they would address the council in a public forum.

Some council members say they have been flooded with correspondence from concerned residents who oppose the project. According to a survey of more than 600 county residents, conducted recently by Anne Arundel Community College, 44 percent of those surveyed said they "wish that such a facility would have been placed at Laurel Race Track."

Despite several years of planning to put a slots parlor at Laurel Park, the developer who put in the bid there was disqualified for not paying state-required application fees and has since been fighting the decision in court.

What's more, members of the council have expressed concern that a casino at Arundel Mills could have adverse effects on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Josh Cohen, an Annapolis Democrat, is one of two councilmen who have said they will definitely vote against the bill.

"When people voted for the referendum, they were voting for slots at the racetrack, not at the mall," Cohen said.

Councilman Daryl Jones, whose district includes Arundel Mills, said he has not decided how he will vote. Last month, Jones unsuccessfully requested that the council postpone introducing the bill, noting concerns that not enough time has passed to explore ramifications the project could have on residents.

Leopold, who has said he personally opposes slots, said he does not want to step on the voices of the county citizens.

"The potential of as much as $30 million a year for county coffers is a subject that we cannot take lightly," he said.

Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly said the council may take a vote at its meeting Monday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Gadi Dechter contributed to this article.

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