Correction to This Article
Two captions with the article on Maryland slot machine proposals incorrectly described the images as depictions of a proposed slots casino in Baltimore. Both of the renderings were of a proposed venue in Anne Arundel County.

Baltimore Encourages Slots Proposal; Anne Arundel Council Delays Vote

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Slot machine gambling casinos planned for Baltimore and Anne Arundel County could be among the largest in the country. Both promise upscale dining and live entertainment. And both could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in much-needed revenue for the Maryland budget.

But the reception could hardly be more different from the two local governments whose cooperation is needed for the state to get its slots program off the ground.

A divided Anne Arundel County Council is continuing to delay a vote on zoning legislation that would allow a 4,750-machine casino at Arundel Mills mall, and last week, the council president made no prediction about what the outcome will be. On Wednesday, residents of surrounding neighborhoods plan to pack a state hearing, where they plan to argue that the project is a bad fit for the family-oriented shopping center.

"This is just not the appropriate site," said Joseline Castanos, a leader of the neighborhood opposition. "It's too close to homes."

In Baltimore, however, the city approved a zoning change for a planned 3,750-machine casino months ago. The city cut the developer a more favorable deal than advertised on leasing city-owned land, and it facilitated a move to a higher-profile site near the football stadium where the Ravens play. The city has also agreed to help finance a parking garage to serve Celebration Casino, which has generated no neighborhood opposition to speak of.

"They really rolled out the welcome mat in Baltimore, whereas Anne Arundel seems to be dragging its feet," said Jeffrey C. Hooke, a Bethesda-based gambling analyst.

Both proposed casinos, scheduled to open in 2011, are crucial to the success of Maryland's star-crossed slots program.

Voters authorized five slots sites in the 2008 election, but the venues in Anne Arundel and Baltimore are projected to account for more than 70 percent of the $1.3 billion in annual revenue that legislative analysts say slots could generate within two years of the casino openings. About half that money would be earmarked for state educational programs.

A state commission plans to award licenses this fall to the companies it picks to run the casinos. When the state solicited bids in February, only one qualified applicant apiece emerged for the Anne Arundel and Baltimore licenses, as was the case for two other smaller locations, in Cecil and Worcester counties. A fifth license, for Allegany County, drew no qualified bidders.

While Maryland struggles with budget shortfalls, the uncertainty surrounding the Anne Arundel location has become a source of frustration for state officials, including Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). He recently accused the Anne Arundel council of "holding the rest of us up from moving forward."

State legislation passed in 2007 ensured that slots parlors would not open without the blessing of local officials. In Anne Arundel, however, no one anticipated that the only proposal would be for an outlet mall. Nearby residents have suggested that a slots casino could increase congestion, crime and other ills -- concerns casino proponents say are overblown.

A bid for an expected location, the Laurel Park racetrack, was disqualified because the owners did not meet a deadline for producing a multimillion-dollar licensing fee.

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