Arundel slots interests spend big ahead of vote

Hollywood Casino opened quietly Monday and lured 21,000 visitors in its first three days, according to its owner.
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 7:20 PM

Monied interests on both sides are pouring millions of dollars into a fight over a ballot measure that could determine whether Maryland's largest slots casino can be built at Arundel Mills mall.

The mall owners and developer of the casino together have contributed $2.6 million to a group advocating for passage of the Nov. 2 referendum in Anne Arundel County.

Voter approval is required to keep a zoning law on the books that is needed for Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. to proceed with its planned 4,750-machine casino in a stand-alone building outside the mall's food court.

Spending by Cordish and the mall owner has been eclipsed by the Maryland Jockey Club, which has given nearly $3.3 million to a group advocating defeat of the ballot measure, known as Question A.

The Jockey Club operates nearby Laurel Park racetrack. Owners of the track have said it could emerge as an alternative location for slots if the bid to put a casino at the mall collapses.

Only one of five slots sites authorized by Maryland voters in 2008 can be located in Anne Arundel.

The Jockey Club is partly owned by Penn National Gaming, the developer of Maryland's first slots casino, which opened last month in Perryville, in the northeastern corner of the state.

A change in Maryland law would be required for Penn National to hold an interest in a second casino. Penn National also owns a casino in Charles Town, W.Va., which draws many of its customers from Maryland.

Both sides in the Anne Arundel slots fight are spending heavily on television ads to sway county voters. Opponents of the site say slots would detract from the mall's family-friendly environment, while supporters say the casino would generate jobs and much-needed revenue for the state and county.

The Anne Arundel County Council passed the zoning law needed by Cordish in December. Opponents of the project successfully petitioned the law to the ballot by collecting voter signatures, as Anne Arundel law allows.

Of the $2.6 million contributed by casino supporters, $2 million came from the Arundel Mills Limited Partnership, the mall owners. The other $600,000 came from a subsidiary set up by Cordish.

"Arundel Mills and its tenants strongly believe the development of a world-class gaming and entertainment facility at Arundel Mills is a critical enhancement to the entire Arundel Mills district," said Joe Weinberg, a principal with Cordish.

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