Candidates take up fight over Maryland slots casino

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 9:58 PM

A spirited fight over Maryland's largest proposed slots casino spilled into the governor's race Tuesday, with the leading candidates and the project's developer trading barbs over the facility envisioned at Arundel Mills mall.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) unveiled new television and radio ads attacking former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) for his law firm's past representation of the project's developer, saying it showed Ehrlich's record of siding with "the special interests."

Ehrlich accused O'Malley of hypocrisy, saying in a statement that it was legislation "conceived by Martin O'Malley, drafted by Martin O'Malley, signed by Martin O'Malley and implemented by Martin O'Malley" that made the Anne Arundel County outlet mall eligible for slots.

Meanwhile, developer David Cordish criticized O'Malley for siding with casino opponents, telling reporters that derailing the project would cost the state and county hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

"He apparently must want to raise taxes," Cordish said of the governor, who later denounced Cordish's comments as a scare tactic.

Anne Arundel voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to let a zoning law stand that is needed for Cordish Cos. to move forward with its planned 4,750-machine casino in a stand-alone building outside the mall's food court.

O'Malley has voiced sympathy for homeowners near the mall, who oppose the casino, and said he thinks racetracks are better locations for slots than malls.

His position hardened Tuesday with the release of his ads, which are airing in the Baltimore region, and in comments made during an interview.

O'Malley said that Ehrlich and Cordish appear interested in "trying to scare people into approving slots at the mall."

"Mr. Cordish is a very successful businessman who is trying to do everything he can to put slots at a mall in a residential area, when most of us would rather see it go to a racetrack," O'Malley said in the interview. "I'd much rather see us do this right."

Cordish hired Ehrlich's law firm last year to do public relations work related to the casino while the zoning measure was pending before the Anne Arundel council. The zoning law has since been petitioned to the ballot by citizens and will appear as Question A in Anne Arundel.

Ehrlich, who lives in the county, has said he will support the measure.

He reiterated that position in a statement Tuesday, saying the state needs the revenue and that "the O'Malley administration has so bungled the process that no other options for the county currently exist."

At the same time, the Ehrlich camp highlighted O'Malley's role in making the Arundel Mills location viable.

At O'Malley's urging, lawmakers agreed to a 2008 statewide ballot measure seeking voter approval of five slots locations in Maryland, including one in Anne Arundel.

Under the measure, operators could bid to put slots at locations within two miles of Route 295, which includes the mall property as well as Laurel Park racetrack. At the time, many lawmakers assumed the racetrack was the leading location for a slots parlor.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Cordish said O'Malley "ought to be doing what Governor Ehrlich is doing and supporting Question A."

"I don't understand his position, but he's entitled to his position," Cordish said of O'Malley. "He's the governor."

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