Sincere human beings also oppose Arundel slots

August 22, 2010|By Jay Hancock

Reggie Prasad wants to stop slot machines from coming anywhere near Arundel Mills mall, but he has never heard of the Maryland Jockey Club, the track owner working toward the same goal.

He has never been coached on talking points by the Ford Group, the public relations agency being paid by the corporate suits fighting slots at the mall. He doesn't know superlawyer Alan M. Rifkin or anybody else associated with the jillion-dollar offensive of anti-slots TV ads, news releases and litigation.

But he knows he doesn't want nearly 5,000 cash-sucking slot machines less than a mile from his house.

"Right now, without the slots being here, the traffic is outrageous," said Prasad, a 39-year-old financial consultant, standing last week outside his home near Arundel Mills Boulevard in Hanover. "With the slots, traffic would probably quadruple."

That's not his only objection: "They're going to have large groups of people coming in, and crime comes with slot machines, too. You've got prostitution, you name it. And if you look at the stats, everywhere slots have gone in the country, property values have gone down the drain."

Beyond the Jockey Club's slick, cynical Citizens Against Slots at the Mall campaign are Prasad and other sincere citizens against slots at the mall. Try to remember this the next time you gag on the hundredth TV ad saying slots would spoil the mall's "family-friendly environment."

"We don't want it in there," says Adewale Adeleye, 41, a pharmacist working in his yard near the Prasad house. Adeleye's young children play on the lawn. His wife weeds the garden. "We plan on voting against it, and my wife is going to make sure all her friends vote that day. Because, right now, this is nice, you know?" he says, gesturing to the quiet street of the brick-facade homes.

"We are OK with the traffic we have now — people coming down here to shop at the mall. But when it comes to casinos, slots — that's bringing more traffic that is going to be negative."

Anne Arundel County votes in November on whether to allow the proposed mall slots palace by David Cordish, the prominent Baltimore developer. At stake are egos, political careers and incredible amounts of money. Construction will probably cost $1 billion, counting hotels and parking. The present value of the first decade of slots proceeds, to be split mainly by Cordish, the state and the county, is something like $5 billion.

The single biggest factor in defending Hanover against slots is the Jockey Club, which may have already spent millions so far to underwrite the anti-slots referendum.

But saving neighborhoods from gambling pathology is not the Jockey Club's first concern. It wants to inflict slots on its own neighbors, a few miles south.

If Cordish's project fails, the next logical place for the Arundel slots parlor that's allowed in the Maryland Constitution is the Jockey Club's Laurel Park racetrack, where everybody expected slots to go in the first place. (The Jockey Club also owns Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness.)

How Cordish took the slots momentum from Frank Stronach, the Canadian auto-parts magnate who controls the Jockey Club through the MI Developments real estate company, is a tale too twisted to recount here.

Suffice it to say that ads advising, "Vote to Enrich the Canadian Tycoon, Not the Baltimore Tycoon," wouldn't have brought out the vote the way Stronach intends. So the Jockey Club has become an advocate for wholesomeness and an opponent of games of chance, at least within certain precincts.

The first of its TV ads, officially underwritten by the No Slots at the Mall ballot committee, appeared about a week ago. They have been virtually inescapable for those who live in or near the county. The idea is that the neighborhoods near Laurel Park, site of horse wagering, are the more appropriate backyard for Maryland's gambling escalation.

"It's a marriage of convenience. I think anybody will admit it," mall slots opponent Rob Annicelli says of the Jockey Club corporate apparatus. "Politics makes strange bedfellows. But I've got to tell you, they've been upfront and honest about everything. We've been true partners with them. Even though they bring the money, we bring the organization."

Annicelli, 33, who lives near the mall and like other citizen-opponents worries about crime, traffic and other ills from nearby slots, started the petition drive that led to the referendum.

David M. Jones, 36, is another bit of humanity inside the anti-mall-slots machine. Until recently just an apolitical Hanover resident and information technology analyst, Jones is now president of the ballot committee, No Slots at the Mall.

"I'm not going to apologize for having sponsors to help ensure that my voice is heard," Jones says of the Jockey Club partnership. "It's just like NASCAR. You don't apologize for getting sponsorships on your car. You put stickers on the car saying, 'I have this sponsor and this sponsor and this sponsor.' We have the sponsors to help us fight the other guys who have gajillions in money that we don't have."

Well, they have it now. Along with a public relations pro, ad copywriters, lawyers, accountants and spinmeisters up to their earlobes. A vote for Reggie Prasad and David Jones is a vote for Stronach, the guy who ran down Laurel Park and Pimlico and is trying to buy the referendum decision.

Try not to hold it against them at the ballot machine.

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