Tuesday's deadline for bids on a license to operate a slots parlor at the state-financed Rocky Gap Lodge in Western Maryland came and went without a single submission — the second time that gambling at the struggling resort has failed to draw a qualified proposal.
Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, which is tasked with choosing proposals and awarding licenses for the state's five approved slots sites, said about four companies expressed interest when the bidding process on the Rocky Gap site began late this summer, but by the afternoon deadline, no one had submitted a proposal or the required $100,000 deposit.
Fry said a number of factors contributed, including the economy, and added that the rural location of Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland makes it more difficult to sell. He acknowledged that the site does not have the built-in traffic of other potential slots sites — such as Arundel Mills mall, where the Baltimore-based developer The Cordish Cos. just won final permission to proceed in a Nov. 2 referendum.
Still, Fry said the Rocky Gap site is "viable" and that the commission will work with state lawmakers to make it — as well as another stalled location in Baltimore — more attractive to potential bidders in hopes of garnering millions of dollars in state revenue.
"We've recognized that because of its location, because of various dynamics, it's more of a challenging location," said Fry. "But we still think it's a very viable location for the state of Maryland to be pursuing. We'll just have to regroup and see what we have to do to encourage bidding at this location."
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation that reduced the tax rate on gambling revenue at Rocky Gap in hopes of attracting a bidder.
Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, termed the outcome disappointing, but stressed that the bidding process for all five sites began in "challenging economic times, especially in the credit market, and those markets haven't fully recovered." Adamec said state lawmakers should examine ways to draw bidders to Rocky Gap, as well as the Baltimore site.
"It's always disappointing when you put out a process and don't receive a response," Adamec said. "But that's our obligation, the obligation of the General Assembly to go back and see what can be done."
Neither House Speaker Michael E. Busch nor Sen. George C. Edwards, whose district includes Rocky Gap, could be reached for comment late Tuesday.
This is the second time the state has sought bidders without success to build a 1,500-machine slots parlor at Rocky Gap in Allegany County — one of five slots sites approved by Maryland voters two years ago. Just one slots parlor has opened — a 1,500-machine facility in Cecil County. A slots casino at Ocean Downs racetrack outside Ocean City is scheduled to open by the end of the year.
In Anne Arundel County, the Cordish Cos. won voter approval a week ago to build a 4,750-machine slots parlor in the parking lot at Arundel Mills after a protracted legal battle delayed development. The Maryland Jockey Club had financed opposition to the casino, in hopes of steering the county's only slots license to its Laurel Park racetrack.