This time, rooting for the developer

David Cordish was on time with his millions for Arundel slots

August 11, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

I used to be opposed to Arundel Mills Mall but lost that battle. I used to oppose slot machines in Maryland, too, but gave up the fight a few years ago and, sick of the debate, became quietly ambivalent about the prospect of additional gambling in the state. Didn't care one way or the other — didn't care about Arundel Mills, didn't care about slots.

But now the opponents of slots in Anne Arundel County, the Maryland governor who's pandered to them and the Maryland Jockey Club have made me a full supporter of slots — specifically at Arundel Mills Mall and specifically operated by the casino developer, David Cordish.

I am rooting for Mr. Cordish, and I don't usually root for multimillionaires unless they wear Orioles or Ravens uniforms.

This is about fairness more than anything else.

Mr. Cordish was paying attention, the citizens of Anne Arundel County weren't and the Maryland Jockey Club was out to lunch.

Mr. Cordish knew that when Maryland voters approved slots at the polls in 2008, the county would get one slots location, and he knew the location could be anywhere within two miles of the lovely Baltimore- Washington Parkway, and it didn't necessarily have to be at Laurel Park racetrack, owned by the Jockey Club.

Mr. Cordish knew that, unlike Laurel Park, Arundel Mills attracts millions of visitors a year, that it competes with Harborplace as the state's top destination, and that the shopping center is within two miles of the lovely B-W.

Mr. Cordish and the slickie-boys at his company knew the rules, too: In order to bid for slots in Anne Arundel County, they would have to meet a state deadline and put up a $28.5 million licensing fee required of all bidders.

So that's what they set out to do — bid for a casino at Arundel Mills — and they apparently did so without consulting the governor, Martin O'Malley, or the president of the Maryland Senate, Mike Miller, or anyone else around here.

One day in the recessionary winter of 2009, Mr. Cordish shows up, shoots his cuffs and announces — badda-bing! — an extraordinary deal hardly anyone outside the Cordish Co. expected: He promised to build a $1 billion gambling-and-entertainment complex and put 2,000 construction workers on the job within a few months. He also offered to hire "pleasant, enormous" bouncers to keep children out of his joint.

No one else, including the Maryland Jockey Club, put up a bid or the licensing fee for slots in Anne Arundel County.

Mr. Cordish did exactly what the state had required of him and then some.

And all he got was bellyaching: from the Senate president, who wants to see slots at Laurel Park (or at the airport — now that's a great idea!), and from people who live near Arundel Mills, who want to see slots anywhere but there. Mr. O'Malley didn't have much to say about the Cordish proposal at the time.

The proposal has been held up by the Anne Arundel County Council, by a petition drive financed in part by the Jockey Club, and by Maryland courts. Opponents want voters to overturn the county zoning law that allows slots at Arundel Mills, so it's going to be a ballot question in November.

Meanwhile, the Democratic governor of Maryland, obviously worried more about re-election than about slots revenue for the state, weighed in on this matter, at long last, and said he sided with citizens who oppose the Cordish proposal.

Never mind that Mr. Cordish did what the state had required, based on the slots referendum passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2008. Never mind that the state desperately needs taxes from slots for public education and that not a single machine has gone online since the 2008 vote. Never mind the question of fairness.

The governor, who's in a tight race with his Republican predecessor, Bob Ehrlich, now takes the populist position. He opposes the millionaire Mr. Cordish.

David Cordish, who 10 years ago had the full support of Martin O'Malley when the latter was mayor of Baltimore and downright bullish about some of Mr. Cordish's redevelopment work in the city, will continue the battle of Arundel Mills.

To win on November's referendum, he'll have to remind the nearly 150,000 Arundel residents who voted for slots in 2008 that their county stands to gain up to $30 million a year from his casino, that he played by the rules when he submitted his bid, and that no one else put real money up for the licensing fee. On that principle alone, I hope he prevails.

Dan Rodricks' columns appear each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is host of Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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