December 02, 2009

Slots Commission OKs Arundel Site

County Council begins debate with 99 signed up to testify

Plans for what would be the largest gaming facility in Maryland gained state approval Monday evening, clearing a critical regulatory hurdle hours before the Anne Arundel County Council was expected to vote on the project.

“We think this has significant financial benefits for the state of Maryland,” Donald C. Fry, chairman of the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, said after the vote.

“It is a tremendous destination location. The consultants indicate to us that this is one of the prime locations in the country for this type of facility. You certainly would hate to see the state of Maryland turn away this potential,” Fry said.

The proposal, submitted by The Cordish Company, a national developer based in Baltimore, had endured months of delays as council and the commission both pressed for the other body to act first.

Commissioners signaled last month they were ready to move on the Maryland Live! Casino, lauding the potential economic benefits of the plan but ultimately postponing action until Monday, when all seven members could be present.

The measure passed, 5-2, and was conditional on county zoning-approval.

The Anne Arundel County Council began debate Monday night in Annapolis, and 99 people had signed up to testify.

The seven-member board, after first introducing zoning bills for gaming facilities in March, delayed for months as it waited on the state commission. Even as late as last week, some council members suggested postponing the vote until the Dec. 21 meeting.

Councilman Joshua J. Cohen left his seat to be sworn in as mayor of Annapolis earlier in the day, and Vice Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks has recused himself, citing unspecified connections to parties tied to the proposal, leaving only five members to cast votes.

A zoning measure requires four votes to pass.

There were two gaming-related zoning bills on council’s agenda, one which would allow for a casino at Arundel Mills and another that would require the county’s one allotted gaming facility be built south of Route 32, eliminating the Arundel Mills plan.

The second, which included provisions for slots parlors located at horse racing tracks, reflects the push by some on council and many in the community to put the county’s one gaming facility allowed by state law at Laurel Park.

The Laurel Racing Association submitted a bid for the Anne Arundel slots license but the commission threw out that bid because neither Laurel nor its parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., submitted a required $28.5 million application fee. The company has been fighting the commission’s decision in court, and challenging the portion of state law upon which the rejection was based.

Cordish’s 200,000-square-foot casino would be built outside the west entrance of Arundel Mills, on what is now a parking lot. It would open in 2011, Cordish officials have said.  Plans also include a 4,500-car garage next to the casino and four or five “white tablecloth” restaurants between the mall and the casino.

The casino, once it hit stable operation in 2016, would inject more than $630 million in direct and in direct economic impact, according to analysts from PricewaterhouseCoopers. It would employ 1,660 and pay $337 million to state and local governments, the analysts found.

Cordish officials expect the $320 million project to create about 2,500 construction jobs. The company held a job fair in November at the mall to showcase 4,000 temporary and permanent positions, from concrete pourers to cocktail waitresses.