Anne Arundel Slots Vote Is a Roll of the Dice

Monday Night Vote Might Not Even Go Down

By Nancy Norman and BRIAN WITTE
|  Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009  |  Updated 2:40 PM EDT
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Anne Arundel Slots Vote Is a Roll of the Dice

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A state commission has approved a slots commission license for a site in Anne Arundel County, but the site near Arundel Mills Mall still needs local zoning approval.

The state slots commission voted 5-2 Monday to allow the Cordish Co. to put as many as 4,750 machines near the popular shopping mall. Estimates indicate the site could generate as much as $500 million a year once the machines are fully implemented.

However, the entire deal remains up in the air pending a vote by the Anne Arundel County Council, where a proposal has been in limbo. The council scheduled a hearing Monday evening to consider the proposal, but but a vote on a zoning measure was delayed. Members of the Anne Arundel County Council decided after 11 p.m. Monday night to delay their vote. Only four of the council's seven members were present. One was ill, another recused himself and one seat was vacant because its former occupant became mayor of Annapolis on Monday.

County residents filled the room and lined up outside to testify on the proposal at a hearing that began at 7 p.m. They groaned after the council members decided not to take action. The process has been dragging on, frustrating cash-strapped state officials who watch in disbelief from the sidelines.

At issue is a zoning question to decide whether or not a casino will be built.

"It's going to be a free-for-all down here," Councilman James Benoit told the Washington Post.

Opponents and supporters alike were out in force. The hearing was open to the public. Under the rules, anyone who wanted to speak for two minutes on the issue could, but midnight was the deadline for the vote. So it was a beat-the-clock scenario. The next meeting is Dec. 21. So either side -- or both - could  sort of filibuster and use the deadline to stop the vote. At least for now.

On one side, the group Stop Slots at Arundel Mills doesn't want quiet streets jammed with partying gamers and worries the atmosphere of gambling will be a bad influence on the community. Some opponents to the mall venture instead support slot machines at Laurel Park, a horse racing track in the county. They say the track needs slots to stay alive. However, bankrupt owner Magna Entertainment Corp. failed to include the required $28.5 million licensing fee in its February proposal to bring slots to that track, opening the door to Cordish. Other opponents just don't want the traffic in an already crowded shopping area.

On the other side are those who could benefit financially -- officials at Arundel Mills Mall and developers who want to build the casino. Supporters say the state and county need the money badly, and that the Cordish Co. has a strong track record for running profitable gambling operations.

Donald Fry, the chairman of the state slot machine commission, said if the Anne Arundel County proposal falls apart, the state commission would seek to rebid a slots parlor there, and the commission would have discretion on when to set a deadline for new bids.
 

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