Md. Awards Second License for Slots Gambling

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009

A commission awarded Maryland's second slot machine gambling license to a planned casino in the northeastern corner of the state Wednesday and put December deadlines on languishing bids to operate the two largest proposed venues, at a shopping mall in Anne Arundel County and a site in Baltimore.

The seven-member panel unanimously approved a bid by Penn National Gaming to put 1,500 machines at the site in Cecil County. Construction of the facility, to be located off Interstate 95, is expected to begin next week, with a planned opening late next year, a company spokesman said.

Penn National operates 19 other gaming facilities in the United States and Canada.

The outlook for much larger casinos planned in Anne Arundel and Baltimore was far murkier Wednesday, as commission members expressed frustration with obstacles still in the way of licensing both facilities.

A proposed 4,750-machine casino at the Arundel Mills mall remains mired in a zoning fight before the Anne Arundel County Council, with no chance of resolution before early December. The council is scheduled to consider two zoning bills Dec. 7, one that would allow slots at the mall and one that would permit slots at locations in the county other than the mall. Under state law, slots venues must comply with local zoning requirements.

Meanwhile, the developers of a planned 3,750-machine casino in Baltimore have yet to submit an additional $19.5 million licensing fee and revised plans needed to obtain its license.

Commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said he wants to finish evaluating both large-venue proposals by the panel's scheduled Dec. 17 meeting. At that point, nearly a year will have passed since the state solicited bids to run the casinos, he noted.

Fry urged the Anne Arundel council and Cordish Cos., the applicant proposing the slots site at the mall, "to move forward with deliberate speed." And Fry said it is "very disturbing" that the commission still had not received revised plans from the Baltimore City Entertainment Group, the developers of the planned casino just south of the football stadium where the NFL's Ravens play.

Fry said rejection of both bids "would certainly be an option" if the "missing pieces" were not in place by Dec. 17. But if significant progress has been made, Fry added, "I'm not saying that is a drop-dead date."

Michael Cryor, a spokesman for the Baltimore group, said it has scheduled a meeting with the commission early next week to discuss several issues concerning its bid and to reveal the identity of an additional investor. "Soon after they give us some assurances, I think they can expect to get a check," Cryor said.

Given the size of the proposed venues, the viability of the Anne Arundel and Baltimore bids will largely determine whether slots revenue for the state approaches the more than $600 million a year that legislative analysts have predicted.

Last month, the commission awarded the state's first license to a relatively small bidder, Ocean Downs racetrack on the Eastern Shore. The developer of that planned 800-machine facility, to be located about five miles west of Ocean City, is angling to open on Memorial Day weekend.

The fledgling state program is seeking to overcome an anemic round of bidding in February, during the height of the economic downturn. Only four qualified bidders sought to operate the five sites authorized by Maryland voters last year. One site, adjacent to the Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Western Maryland, drew no qualified bidders.

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