When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton, the legendary stickup man, supposedly said, "Because that's where the money is." Similarly, there's a reason why David Cordish, the successful developer, wants to put a $1 billion slots casino and entertainment complex at Arundel Mills: That's where the people are. About 14 million of them visit the mall there in a good year.
That's serious foot traffic, approaching the annual attendance for Harborplace. No one wants gambling at Harborplace, so Mr. Cordish, who is one smart cookie, chose the state's next-biggest people magnet.
He also put up the multimillion-dollar licensing fee required of all bidders for Maryland's slot machines.
He made a bold and surprising offer that, his company claimed, would have put 2,000 construction workers on the job before the end of the year and, in time, generated millions in slots revenue for the state, Anne Arundel County and, of course, Mr. Cordish and the Cordish family.
He did all this months ago, meeting the deadline for bids and blowing the rest of the competition out of the water. (Actually, the rest of the competition didn't even get in the water.)
And still the deal has not been approved. It's in the hands of the Anne Arundel County Council.
Here's the part that gives me giggles: The chairwoman of the council thinks the slots casino would be better in some nameless industrial or business area south of Route 32 near Route 295.
What a dazzling counterproposal!
Imagine, if you can, a casino near warehouses and all those other flat-roofed buildings and parking lots you see from the window as your plane approaches BWI. Doesn't that just blow you away? Nothing says, "destination" like that prospect.
Cathleen Vitale, the council member who came up with this, is trying to zone the Cordish company out of Arundel Mills because she's caught heat from residents who think slots will just draw more traffic and bring more crime to the area. The plan includes a parking garage, but that doesn't seem to have satisfied the Arundel Millers, so Ms. Vitale is trying to zone Mr. Cordish out.
I'm confused. Ms. Vitale is a Republican. I thought Republicans support free enterprise, full-throttle capitalism, and less-is-better when it comes to government regulation. In Maryland, I presume, most Republicans supported Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. when he was governor, and Mr. Ehrlich spent most of his four years in Annapolis pushing the legalization of slot machine gambling.
We knew all along there would be some local pushback on slots locations - that's the American way, too - but there's something bigger going on here, albeit temporarily.
The flap over Arundel Mills points to the great ambivalence about gambling: We want the money slots are expected to bring, but we don't really want to be near slots parlors. Don't want to see them. They make us feel dirty.
Get over it, people. If there's one way to guarantee failure in anything - or at least mediocrity - it's to take on a task with ambivalence.
Now that the majority has spoken clearly, the state should do all it can for the best outcome, the maximum profit.
Mr. Cordish came up with a surprising, smart and attractive proposal for slots - much better than putting them at the Laurel racetrack, much better than sticking them in an industrial park.
The Mid-Atlantic is pretty much saturated with slots. Maryland has to do something to draw gamblers who have far more choices than they did just 10 years ago.
The Cordish proposal for Arundel Mills goes a long way toward both goals: maximized profit and a distinct destination. What's with all the stalling?
Even Gov. Martin O'Malley, who pushed slots, refrained from sticking his neck out for the Cordish plan when asked about it by Jeff Salkin on Maryland Public Television last week. He gave the gubernatorial equivalent of "Whatever" in his response.
"Whichever way they decide at this point in the process will be fine," Mr. O'Malley said, as if a slots casino in an industrial park or at a racetrack in bankruptcy would be just as successful as one in a mall that already draws close to 14 million people.
Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.