Cordish plans small interim casino in Anne Arundel as full-scale project progresses

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2010; 9:30 PM

The developers of Maryland's largest planned slots casino announced a strategy Monday to open a smaller facility late next year at the Arundel Mills mall as construction continues on its full-size project.

The plan would let Cordish Cos. open a stripped-down version of Maryland Live! a year ahead of the full-scale casino at the mall, which is in Anne Arundel County.

The smaller facility would have 2,000 slot machines and be housed on the first level of a parking lot adjacent to the site of the permanent casino, which will feature 4,750 machines when it opens in late 2012, a representative of the company told a state panel.

Joseph Weinberg, president of Cordish, said that the "first-phase" casino would have the feel of a "completely built-out" facility. It would have a bar and limited food service, he said. The multiple restaurants and live entertainment planned at the full-scale facility would not start operating until the larger version opens.

Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state commission that oversees slots locations, said that no formal approval was needed from his panel for construction of the first phase but that Cordish would need multiple permits from the county government.

"We certainly have indicated our desire for this project to move forward as quickly as possible . . . and generate revenue for the state of Maryland," Fry told reporters.

The Anne Arundel casino will probably be the third slots casino to open in the state since Maryland voters authorized five in a 2008 referendum. About half of the revenue generated by the facilities is intended to benefit state education programs.

A 1,500-machine facility opened in Perryville, in the northeastern part of the state, in late September. An 800-machine facility at Ocean Downs racetrack on the Eastern Shore is scheduled to begin operating next month.

Plans for the Arundel Mills casino have generated controversy since they were first announced last year. Opponents successfully petitioned to place zoning legislation needed for the project on the ballot in Anne Arundel. After a costly campaign that included TV ads from both sides, voters approved the casino last month.

Two of Maryland's authorized slots sites remain stalled.

Last year, Fry's panel rejected a proposal from a potential developer of a site in downtown Baltimore. That license is likely to be rebid in the spring.

A license to operate a site in Western Maryland has not drawn any qualified applicants in two separate rounds of bidding.

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