Planned Md. casino gets state approval

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Developers of Maryland's largest planned slots casino secured one of two key votes they were seeking Monday to move the controversial project forward: approval from the state.

But the fate of the proposed facility at an Anne Arundel County outlet mall remained in limbo, as debate on a separate local zoning bill ended late Monday night without action by the Anne Arundel County Council. The bill was rescheduled for Dec. 21.

Members of a state panel, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, said they were impressed by the revenue that the Arundel Mills mall site could generate at a time when Maryland's budget has been battered by the recession.

Within a few years of its planned opening in late 2011, the casino could gross more than $500 million a year, about half of which would be earmarked for state education programs, a state consultant said.

"It is a tremendous destination location," Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state commission, said after a 5 to 2 vote. "You certainly would hate to see the state of Maryland turn away this potential."

With 4,750 slot machines, the casino would probably be the most lucrative of five authorized by the state and one of the largest of its kind in the country.

The license from the state, however, was awarded Monday "contingent on zoning approval" from the county council. That has long seemed the tougher fight.

Fry said the commission chose not to put a deadline on how long to give the developer, Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., to obtain zoning approval. But he said that at some point, the commission could reopen bidding for the Anne Arundel license if zoning approval is not obtained.

The two commission members who voted against licensing Monday indicated that they thought zoning approval should be obtained before the state grants a license, Fry said.

A vote grew increasingly unlikely Monday night with each hour of public testimony. Anne Arundel's charter does not permit action after midnight.

Ninety-nine people signed up to speak at the council meeting, which began at 7 p.m.

They included David Cordish, chairman of the company seeking to bring slots to the mall, who said that the casino would generate jobs for "thousands of people in need of work."

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