Arundel Holding Up Slots, Says O'malley

Initiative Is 'Gummed Up' By Arundel Mills Indecision

August 07, 2009|By Don Markus | Don Markus,

Gov. Martin O'Malley told members of the state's horse-racing and breeding industry Thursday that Anne Arundel County's indecision on rezoning land adjacent to Arundel Mills mall was delaying the process of getting what is the largest proposed slots parlor under way.

Speaking to a group of 250 during the Maryland Horse Forum at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, O'Malley said the entire slots initiative, which includes four other locations, "is kind of gummed up" by the Anne Arundel County Council tabling further discussion on the issue until the fall.

The Baltimore-based developer, Cordish Cos., has proposed building an elaborate casino with almost 5,000 slot machines near the Arundel mall, but the County Council has been divided over rezoning the land to make that possible.

FOR THE RECORD - An article Friday about slot machine gambling misreported the first name of the chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Council. Her correct name is Cathleen M. Vitale.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

Laurel Park, whose bid to bring slots machines to the racetrack was tossed out by the state's slots commission because its owner failed to submit the required licensing fees, filed a lawsuit over the matter, which further added to the delay. The state's highest court ruled last month that the dispute should be reviewed by the state contracting board before being litigated in the courts.

"It's very frustrating," O'Malley said of the Arundel situation during a 30-minute question-and-answer session after his keynote speech. "They were waiting for the court, and then the court said, 'We're not going to be the County Council for you, you all need to make a decision.' You've told them to make a decision, the courts have told them to make a decision, we're urging them to make a decision, we need them to make a decision."

Catherine M. Vitale, the County Council's chairwoman, denied Thursday that the council is responsible for the delay.

"The Court of Appeals decision made it clear that the gaming commission should move forward with their process and complete their location and licensing decision," Vitale said. "Our zoning doesn't have anything to do with who they grant a license to."

Vitale said that she is undecided on slots but that the council is currently concentrating on a once-a-decade general development plan.

The state's slots commission is reviewing bids for licenses for the machines. As part of that process, the commission is traveling to proposed venues to hear presentations from bidders and to take public comment. The panel is expected to award licenses this fall.

Aside from the Arundel site, the referendum approved by a 59 percent majority of voters last November called for slots parlors to be built in Cecil and Worcester counties, Baltimore City and on state property in Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland.

The slots parlors are expected to eventually generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Some of those proceeds are slated to augment horse-racing purses.

The debate about where the slots will go is only part of a fuzzy future facing what officials estimate is a $1.6 billion industry in the state. The other big question surrounds Magna Entertainment Corp., which filed for bankruptcy in March. Magna owns Pimlico Race Course, which hosts the Preakness Stakes, and Laurel Park, the state's other major racing venue.

"It's almost a multilevel chess game, isn't it?" O'Malley said of the industry's issues within the state. "They all play into it."

Baltimore Sun reporters Laura Smitherman and Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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