Arundel Mills slots proposal draws hundreds to hearing

April 03, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,

About 250 people attended a public hearing Thursday night in Annapolis to express their opposition to - or support for - a proposed slots casino at Arundel Mills mall.

County residents and businesspeople crammed into the County Council's chambers for the meeting, which the council held to hear public testimony on a zoning bill that would allow electronic slots in a county that does not permit them.

While many residents of communities surrounding Arundel Mills have been outspoken in their opposition to the casino, many others spoke up at the meeting to show their support for the project, which could bring in $30 million in tax revenue for the county and $447 million for the state.

Representatives from the Cordish Cos., the Baltimore-based development company that has proposed the billion-dollar entertainment complex, presented a slide show on the project and answered questions from the seven-member council.

The council members, who have been divided on the bill, could decide on the zoning legislation as early as Monday. If the county does not pass a bill to allow electronic slots, Cordish's lavish plans for an Arundel Mills casino could become moot.

Cordish plans to include 4,750 slot machines at its casino, the maximum allowed by the state. The developer also plans to build a parking garage that could be used by anyone at Arundel Mills.

"This is not a slots warehouse," said Joseph Weinberg, a Cordish Cos. principal. "This is truly a world-class attraction."

Weinberg stressed the potential revenue the state could lose if the bill does not go through. He also said the project would create 2,500 temporary construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs in the casino.

The county would receive 5.5 percent of the gaming revenue, and the horse racing industry would receive 9.5 percent.

Although Cordish Cos. Chairman David Cordish said Wednesday that he will bid to buy Laurel Park racetrack, which is up for sale by its bankrupt owner, Weinberg said the company has no intention of placing slots there.

Laurel Park's owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., is in a legal battle over a disqualified bid to install slots at the track.

Some council members have expressed concern that although 60 percent of county residents voted for a referendum allowing slots, many were under the impression that the casino would be built in Laurel, not at Arundel Mills in Hanover.

Weinberg said the Cordish Cos. made a conscious decision not to market the Arundel Mills proposal before the referendum passed.

"We actually tried not to influence people's decisions on this issue," he said.

About 50 residents of Villages of Dorchester, a community near the mall, donned anti-slots stickers and shared a slogan they created: "Tot lots and slots don't mix." Some residents of the community have said that the mall can be seen from a playground in their neighborhood.

Carol White, a member of the board of directors for the community's homeowners association, testified on behalf of the group, which she said "overwhelmingly opposed" the bill.

"Our community has real concerns about negative impacts of slots," she said.

Representatives from other community associations also spoke out against the bill, including those from the Greenbriar Community Association and the Greater Odenton and Jessup improvement associations.

But several residents voiced concern that taxpayers would suffer without the additional revenue. Others said how impressed they were with the Cordish Cos. and the grandiose vision of the potential project.

"I think it's a great location," said Bob Fowler of Severna Park.

"To me, the people have spoken," he said. "The people of Maryland voted on slots, and I think the county ought to go ahead and approve this."

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