A state panel voted unanimously Tuesday to solicit new bidders to operate a slots casino in downtown Baltimore, seeking to move forward with the potentially lucrative project after a series of delays.
The site, just south of the football stadium where the NFL’s Ravens play, is envisioned as the second largest of the five authorized by Maryland voters in 2008, with as many as 3,750 slot machines.
A first round of bidding in February 2009 attracted just one bidder, and 10 months later that bid was rejected amid concerns about whether the potential operator could firm up its financing arrangements.
A series of administrative and legal challenges ensued, and Tuesday, the state panel decided to try again, even though a few issues remain unresolved.
“We think it’s in the best interest of Maryland to rebid Baltimore City as soon as we can,” said Donald C. Fry, chairman of the seven-member commission which picks Maryland’s slots operators.
A lawyer for the previously rejected bidder, a group of investors known as the Baltimore City Entertainment Group, unsuccessfully pleaded for more time Tuesday to resolve some legal challenges.
Fry said the rejected group is welcome to participate in the second round of bidding. He said he expects several other potential operators to come forward as well, based on private conversations.
“I’m hope hopeful we will receive multiple bids,” Fry said.
The economic downturn was blamed in part on the dearth of bidders for the Baltimore site and other four locations in February 2009.
The Baltimore casino must operate on land owned by the city, a provision that complicated negotiations with the previous bidder.
Fry said the second solicitation will not be sent out until a memorandum of understanding is signed between the state and city that should streamline negotiations.
He said he hopes a bidder can be chosen by the end of the year. The panel is also trying to land an operator by then at a site in Western Maryland, another location that initially drew limited interest.