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Slots Approved For Ocean Downs

Maryland awarded its first license for slot-machine gambling on Wednesday afternoon, giving Ocean Downs racetrack on the Eastern Shore permission to operate up to 800 machines as early as Memorial Day.

Marking a milestone in Maryland's long-running battle over legalizing slots, a state commission unanimously approved the first of five sites authorized by voters in last year's election.

"By our action today, we are showing this moving forward," said Donald C. Fry, chairman of the seven-member commission, which began weighing bids in February following a bitter legislative debate over the issue that dominated state politics for years.

William M. Rickman Jr., a Potomac developer who owns Ocean Downs, said he hopes to have the slots parlor operating at his existing horse-racing track by Memorial Day. Several local approvals, including a building permit, still must be secured, but Worcester County officials have said they see no sizable hurdles ahead.

Rickman, who watched the commission proceedings in Annapolis, said he expects most of the customer base for slots at Ocean Downs to come from Ocean City, which is five miles east of the track. "We're fortunate that Ocean City has a lot of people looking for things to do," Rickman told reporters.

Decisions are expected in coming months on the only three other qualified applicants who responded in February to the state's call for bids. The economic downturn was largely blamed for the anemic interest. The state is expected to re-bid the fifth license at some point.

In February's bidding, applicants collectively sought fewer than half the 15,000 machines the state is allocating.

Fry indicated Wednesday that the next applicant likely to be considered for approval is Penn National Gaming, which has proposed putting 500 slot machines in Cecil County. The company, which is considering revising its proposal to include 1,500 machines, could be awarded a license as early as Oct. 21, Fry said.

The proposals for the two largest potential venues -- in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore -- are not likely to be acted upon as quickly.

Cordish Cos., which has proposed placing 4,750 machines at Arundel Mills mall, is mired in a zoning fight with the Anne Arundel County Council. Both the council and state commission have indicated they would like the other body to act on the proposal first.

Meanwhile, a background check of the potential operators of the Baltimore site is proceeding slowly, in part because of "a combination of multiple partners involved in the process," Fry said.

Commission staff declined to predict how much longer they will need to complete the evaluation.

The Baltimore City Entertainment group has told the commission it would like to put a casino with 3,750 machines at a site just south of the professional football stadium where the Ravens play. In February, the group proposed only 500 machines at a slightly different site. The group has not formally submitted updated plans and still must submit an additional $19.5 million in licensing fees for its more expansive proposal to be considered.

By John Wagner  |  September 23, 2009; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  John Wagner , Slots  
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Quote from the Baltimore Sun:

"Rickman, who attended the commission meeting, said he wished at times he could "scrap the whole thing," calling the process leading to Wednesday's award "long and drawn-out." Voters approved video-lottery gambling in November 2008."

So 10 months is "long and drawn-out"?

Amazing the sense of entitlement these filthy rich characters like Rickman have when their obscene profits aren't delivered instantaneously and on silver platters.

Posted by: BamBamRubble | September 23, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

So now thaqt slots are here, and I opposed them originally, lets get on with it. Cut the red tape, grease the wheels, move on and let the cash roll in. Tha's what was supposed to happen, right? If you don't like slots, don't go there.

Posted by: VikingRider | September 23, 2009 8:14 PM | Report abuse

I agree, vikingrider, about getting on with it, even though I too opposed the referendum. I even support slots at Arundel Mills because a majority of voters in Anne Arundel County voted for slots and they knew or should have known that the boundaries of the area included the mall.

But it just makes me sick to see these pigs gripe about how long it's taking for them to skim off their cut. Rickman actually gets two cuts, one from owning the casino, the other because his track gets to fatten up purses with the slot subsidy.

Posted by: BamBamRubble | September 23, 2009 8:28 PM | Report abuse

There will never be slots at Arundel Mills:

Posted by: Hanover_Resident | September 23, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Did you or any of the other opponents of the AMM site vote for the referendum? If so, I have zero sympathy. If not, blame your neighbors or the politicians who drew the lines. The rest of us, at least the ones who vote Against, don't really want to hear it.

Posted by: BamBamRubble | September 23, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

The devil is in the details. The main reason there has been so much resistance to slots at Arundel Mills from the malls neigbors is the lack of any serious effort by the author of the slots zoning legislation, the County Executive, to provide real protections for the residents near the mall. The approval process he laid out was a public review of the trafffic study to be done by Cordish, no enhanced security beyond the casino itself, and no 1/4 mile buffer between residental zones, which was provided to the residents of Baltimore. He sent one of his assistants out to talk, but not listen, to the residents near the mall. The closest residents are also the newest residents in the area, and did not participate in the 2007 process where the slots area was defined. Now the residents have been forced to use whatever tools they need to to stop the proposal since no one wants to actually try to provide the needed protections.

Posted by: Rob_A | September 23, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

I voted no, and I also voted for John Leopold - an 18 year opponent of slots, until now. Many others near here did not live here at the time. However, I can tell you that opposition in other parts of Anne Arundel County is strong because of the popularity of the mall and the current traffic problems there.

Posted by: Hanover_Resident | September 23, 2009 9:06 PM | Report abuse are aware Cordish Cos. was in discussions to bring slots to Laurel before the bid deadline. This may be their alternate site. What would you think about slots in Laurel?

Posted by: Hanover_Resident | September 23, 2009 9:12 PM | Report abuse

I don't want slots in Laurel, I didn't want them anywhere. But most AA residents voted for the proposal and knew the boundaries, so now, why should anyone from elsewhere care? I do feel for those who, like you, opposed slots.

By why Laurel and not AMM? Laurel is MORE congested than Hanover, except maybe at rush hour and then only occasionally. I'm in both places frequently. Anyway, why should Magna reap a double windfall like Rickman? Why have some crappy facility at the decrepit Laurel track when you can have a beautiful one at AMM?

Posted by: BamBamRubble | September 23, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

AA is a nutty situaton, not the others. Cecil County approved the subdivision of Parcel 70 on Monday for the Pen Nat'l site. Now they can buy the dirt and get the thing built. They probably will be given OK soon too, like Rickman. Baltimore is no cake walk from what I read.

Posted by: MongoLikeCandy | September 24, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

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