Bidders Cry Foul Over City Site

Changing Potential Slots Casino Location In Midstream Isn't Fair, Other Interested Parties Say

August 25, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

A plan to move the proposed site for a Baltimore slots casino has drawn a protest from the operator of Laurel Park racetrack, who wants the state to rebid the gambling licenses.

City officials have promoted the plan to move the slots parlor to a parcel on Russell Street with extra space to accommodate more machines and possibly retail shops, a theater and night club.

But other potential operators have said they might have bid if they had known a new location was available. The city-owned parcel had previously been promised to another developer, who planned to build a sports complex there.

"It is patently unfair and arguably improper to change the rules in the middle of the game," Scott Livingston, an attorney for Laurel Racing Association, wrote in an Aug. 21 letter to the state slots commission.

Commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said he was still reviewing the letter but hoped to get more information about how the process evolved when the casino developer, Baltimore City Entertainment Group, makes a presentation this week. He declined to comment further.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who asked voters to legalize slot machines in a referendum last year, said that proposals to build casinos are "proceeding."

The slots commission had tossed out Laurel Park's bid for an Anne Arundel County casino because the track's owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., failed to submit $28.5 million in required license fees.

The company sued, but Maryland's highest court ruled in July that the state Board of Contract Appeals has jurisdiction in the matter. That appeal can't be made until the commission awards the slots licenses, which isn't expected until fall.

Only one bidder is in the running for licenses at each site. Baltimore City Entertainment Group, in a written statement, said it "is following all the rules and regulations set forth by the state and city as it fulfills the requirements for the Baltimore development."

The other bidder in the running for the Anne Arundel site is Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., which faces a zoning fight in the county. Jon Cordish, a vice president, has complained that his company was not aware that the Russell Street land was available, a wrinkle that would have affected the developer's appraisal of a Baltimore casino.

City officials have said they believe the new plan is in the best interest of the city. The proposed site would likely boost gambling revenues, with developers envisioning 3,750 slot machines, instead of the original 500.

Livingston, the lawyer for Laurel Racing, argued that adding a more favorable site in Baltimore, without allowing other bidders a shot at obtaining it, violated basic fairness for government procurement.

He also protested that the commission may allow the Baltimore group to amend its bid and pay extra licensing fees, even though the original deadline has passed.

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