Md. throws out bid for Baltimore slots casino

An artist's rendering of the slots casino that was proposed for downtown Baltimore.
An artist's rendering of the slots casino that was proposed for downtown Baltimore. (Courtesy Of Baltimore City Entertainment Group)
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009

A bid to build Maryland's second-largest slots casino was killed Thursday by a state panel whose members said they were deeply frustrated by the developer's repeated delays in securing financing and providing other plans for the facility envisioned for downtown Baltimore.

The decision was the latest -- and arguably largest -- setback for the state's fledgling slots program and the promise of more than $600 million a year for education that supporters have said it would generate. The fate of the state's largest planned casino, at the Arundel Mills mall, could turn on a local zoning vote scheduled for Monday.

The state action Thursday followed public pleas by representatives of the Baltimore City Entertainment Group for more time to firm up financing and other arrangements for a 3,750-machine facility to be located just south of the stadium where the National Football League's Ravens play.

In a 6 to 0 vote, the commission decided to reopen bidding next year for the license, one of five authorized last year in a statewide referendum. The decision could add many months to a process that began in February, but panel members said they are hopeful that several bidders will come forward, particularly if economic conditions improve.

Legislative analysts have estimated the Baltimore site could generate more than 30 percent of the state's slots revenue.

Commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said the panel had been "more than patient" with the group that submitted the only bid for the Baltimore location in February. "We have a responsibility to ensure the process moves forward in a reasonable period of time," said Fry, a former state legislator.

The developers originally proposed building a 500-machine facility. Over the summer, plans were publicly disclosed for an expanded 3,750-machine casino a few blocks away. But despite repeated promises since then, the group, as of Thursday, had not formally submitted revised plans or a required $19.5 million licensing fee.

"We fully appreciate the frustration you feel as a commission," Michael Cryor, the past chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party and a prominent member of the Baltimore group, told the panel during a tense exchange before the decision was announced.

Cryor and other representatives of the group said their bid had been hindered by the tight credit market. But they said they signed a preliminary agreement Thursday morning with an outside investor, New York-based York Capital Management, that would provide necessary funds for a planned June opening of the casino.

Commission members countered that the financing deal was not final and expressed disbelief at the group's time frame.

"This project is nowhere near the track," said Robert R. Neall, a commission member. "It is not on track, and it's not moving."

The administration of Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) had weighed in before the meeting, asking that the state give the developers more time. Unlike the four other sites, state law requires the Baltimore slots facility to be built on city-owned land, and Dixon's administration had been an active partner in the development.

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