An earlier version of this article misstated Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.'s position on slots in Maryland. He supports them. This version has been corrected.
Md. Slots Beset by Further Problems
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The launch of Maryland's slot machine program weakened further yesterday as state officials said that companies bidding for gambling sites would collectively install less than half the desired 15,000 machines and that two of the six bidders could be disqualified for failing to submit millions in licensing fees with their proposals.
The developments, which came a day after a state commission released somewhat more optimistic results from the bidding, prompted some lawmakers to talk openly about giving gambling companies a bigger share of earnings to entice them to invest more aggressively.
Although some state leaders, including Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), counseled patience with the process yesterday, others said the General Assembly might eventually need to revise the profit split between the state and the slots operators.
"What I'm suggesting is the commission revisit this whole process," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), a major slots supporter. "We're going to have to regroup.
Miller said state leaders need to start preparing for the reality that slots revenue will not meet expectations in coming years, when the program was expected to yield more than $600 million a year for education programs.
The plan envisioned slots venues at five sites in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties and Baltimore. On Monday, the commission handling bids announced that it had received six bids for 10,550 machines. Commission Chairman Donald Fry lowered that figure to 6,550 yesterday and said the commission will discuss the status of two bidders next week.
One of those facing disqualification is the Maryland Jockey Club, which has proposed putting slots at its Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel. If disqualified, that would leave one other bid for the Anne Arundel site: a proposal by Baltimore-based Cordish to put 4,750 machines at Arundel Mills Mall, which is stirring controversy.
Empire Resorts, a New York-based company that put in the only bid to operate slots near the Rocky Gap resort in Allegany, requesting 750 machines, also failed to submit the fee.
"It appears that these do not meet the basic requirements," Fry said, stressing that the full commission will have to make that determination.
Mike Gathagan, a spokesman for the Jockey Club, said the organization submitted a revised proposal for 4,750 machines yesterday that included the fee and looked forward to competing for the license.
A state law required bidders to submit such fees with their applications. Some lawmakers said yesterday that they had little sympathy for those that missed the deadline.
"The way this was set up is you got to pay to play, and anybody who didn't put up their initial payment in my opinion is not a significant investor," Miller said.