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Bidding for Slots Licenses Falls Short of Md. Plan

Read the pros and cons of the slots referendum and get information on where the money is going.

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By John Wagner and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Maryland's long-awaited plan to offer slot machine gambling got off to a tepid start yesterday as the poor economic climate contributed to lackluster bidding by companies for the right to open five sites across the state.

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Only six companies put in bids, collectively proposing to install 10,550 slot machines out of an anticipated total of 15,000. The weak interest jeopardizes the prospect of $660 million in annual revenue for education that analysts had said slots could generate in a few years.

Proposals varied considerably, with plans offered to put slots at a mountain resort, a mega-mall and horse-racing tracks.

Don Fry, the chairman of a commission that will evaluate the bids, said the proposals contemplate expansion to as many as 13,000 machines. But he acknowledged that the number was shy of what voters authorized in November, when they broke a bitter five-year stalemate in the General Assembly over the issue.

"I think obviously the legislature was hoping for all 15,000," Fry said. "Obviously the economy has an effect on the situation right now."

Slots revenue is not projected to become a major source of state funding until 2012. But with tight budgets forecast into the foreseeable future, lawmakers said any drop-off is cause for concern.

"I don't think it's fatal, in and of itself, but it just makes the lift that much heavier," said Del. Murray D. Levy (D-Charles), a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Christine Hansen, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), characterized yesterday's bids as "a large interest given the economic times."

Fry declined to name the bidders but said that at least one company submitted proposals on each of the five designated sites: in Baltimore and Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties. The Anne Arundel site drew two bids, setting up the only contest in what was supposed to be a competitive process. State law allows only one slots license per county.

As of last night, the commission was still reviewing whether all six bids met necessary requirements, including hefty licensing fees.

The Maryland Jockey Club, as expected, submitted a proposal to put 4,750 slot machines at the Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel, according to the organization. Magna Entertainment, the organization's owner, acknowledged late last night that it had not included a required $28.5 million licensing fee. A competing plan was submitted by the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. to put 4,750 slot machines at Arundel Mills Mall, the company announced.

The commission is not scheduled to announce winning bids for several months, with slots parlors projected to open in 2011.

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