Members of the state commission considering whether to grant a slots license to Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. expressed frustration Wednesday with continuing delays by Anne Arundel County officials in approving a rezoning measure that would allow the proposed billion-dollar entertainment complex to be built.
The Video Lottery Facility Location Commission toured the site of the proposed slots parlor at Arundel Mills, followed by a public meeting and hearing on the Cordish proposal for the state's most lucrative slots license. County Council members said they plan to vote on the zoning legislation once the commission acts, although they face opposition from nearby residents who say the casino will increase traffic and crime in their neighborhood.
Joseph Weinberg, president of development at Cordish, said he is confident that "we are at the end of this process and we're not going to see any surprises."
But D. Bruce Poole, a member of the slots commission, said he was "disturbed by the lack of leadership" on the council's part, while Robert R. Neall, another commissioner, admonished Cordish officials for what he perceived as their assumption that the County Council ultimately will approve the zoning.
"I'm not as sanguine as you about getting local approval," said Neall. "This commission will not vote until we have local approval. That's the way we treated everyone else. To reverse the process would be an absurdity. ... We're going to do this the right way. And it's going to be in the right sequence."
Donald C. Fry, chairman of the commission, said, "We would have preferred to have seen the county come forward first. Unfortunately, that has not been the procedure. We hope that the council steps up soon. It does complicate things."
Daryl Jones, a member of the council whose district includes Arundel Mills, said the council is proceeding thoughtfully. "They're holding up the process," Jones said. "Stop waiting on us. We're trying to think of the community."
The planned 30,000-square-foot facility would sit on 10 acres on the west side of Arundel Mills that is now parking, stretching from approximately the mall's food court to the Modell's sporting goods store. The facility would be branded with the "Live!" logo of other Cordish complexes and boast a major pillared entrance, with the casino's restaurants along the perimeter and a large entertainment lounge and smaller, intimate spaces integrated within the gaming floor. An attached six- to eight-level parking garage would accommodate about 4,380 cars, with a smaller valet parking lot for about 129 cars.
"This is a regional destination," Weinberg said. "This will really be one of the great gaming sites in the country."
Weinberg characterized opposition to the proposal as "misconceptions," saying that the casino's heavily regulated security infrastructure will increase security and the garage's parking garage would enhance traffic flow.
"No one has more sophisticated security than we do in the gaming industry," Weinberg said. "There's no more regulated business in the country than the gaming industry."
Gov. Martin O'Malley and others have said they would prefer to have slots at horse tracks, and many expected Laurel Park to be the leading contender for a slots license in Anne Arundel County. But the track's corporate owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., was disqualified when it failed to submit $28.5 million in required license fees by the February bid deadline.
Magna, which lobbied for years for approval of slots gambling in Maryland, sued to have its bid reinstated. But the Court of Appeals recently ruled that the state Board of Contract Appeals has jurisdiction in the matter and that an appeal could only be made after the slots commission awards the licenses.
Nearly 60 people, about evenly divided between supporters and opponents, signed up to speak at the public hearing that officials expected would last until 10 p.m.
Joseline Castanos, who lives in Hanover, near the mall, said she is concerned about an increase in drunken driving and other crimes and a surge in traffic.
"I urge you to keep the casino away from our community," Castanos said. "Arundel Mills mall is surrounded by homes."
Sylvia Palmer of Millersville urged approval of the slots license, saying that the added security at the casino could reduce crime.
"The residents voted, and they voted yes to slots," she said. "It's time to go ahead and bring this revenue in, and these jobs are desperately needed. So many of my neighbors are out of work."