Defeat of mall slots plan won't upset O'Malley

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 24, 2009

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said Friday that he "will not be angry" if a local zoning decision sinks the state's largest proposed slots casino at Arundel Mills mall.

After months of delay, a deeply divided Anne Arundel County Council has indicated that it will vote in December on zoning legislation required to build the 4,750-machine venue proposed by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos.

O'Malley has been careful to avoid taking a public position on the local zoning bill, which is strongly opposed by homeowners who say a casino will breed more traffic and crime. But in recent media interviews, O'Malley has made clear that he would not be deeply disappointed if Cordish's bid fails.

"I've tried to respect [the council's] prerogative," O'Malley said Friday. "But I've never made any secret about my belief that we'd be best off keeping slots at the tracks. I think they all know that."

Cordish's slots plan is the only one proposed for Anne Arundel pending before a state commission that has the power to award five slots licenses authorized by voters last year in specific counties.

If Cordish's zoning request fails, the state commission is likely to reopen bidding for the Anne Arundel license. That could delay by several more months the anticipated start of tens of millions of dollars in state slots proceeds.

But rebidding could also draw another attempt to put slots at the Laurel Park racetrack. A bid by the track owners was disqualified in February because it did not include a required $28.5 million licensing fee.

The track is expected to be auctioned off early next year in bankruptcy proceedings that could attract multiple suitors.

As a candidate for governor in 2006, O'Malley advocated placing "a limited number" of slots machines at horse racing tracks only. A compromise plan passed by the legislature in 2007 included the possibility of casinos at only two existing tracks.

For weeks, O'Malley has chided the Anne Arundel council for taking a long time to act. The state has insisted that zoning be in place before slots licenses are issued.

In an interview on Maryland Public Television this week, O'Malley said of the County Council: "Whichever way they decide, at this point in the process, will be fine. We can move forward either way. But the important thing is that they make a decision."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company