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Cordish: Still confident amid Md. slots chaos

Slots

David S. Cordish, chairman of the Cordish Cos., expressed renewed confidence Monday that his company will secure needed zoning legislation to proceed with its planned slots casino at Arundel Mills mall, despite fresh evidence of a divided Anne Arundel County Council.

Cordish's assessment comes in the wake of reports over the weekend and Monday morning that competing zoning bills will be introduced Monday night before the Anne Arundel County Council -- including one supported by Chairman Cathleen M. Vitale (R-Severna Park) that would not permit slots at the mall.

Hearings -- and possible votes -- on both bills are planned for the first Monday in December.

"We are confident that zoning for the Mills will pass, as it is far and away the best location for the county and state," Cordish told us via e-mail. "The Mills location is the only location where ... there is an existing two billion dollars of infrastructure and amenities in place, and where there is already a world-class tourist attraction in place.

Council member Ronald C. Dillon Jr. (R-Pasadena), who plans to introduce the Cordish-friendly zoning legislation Monday night, said he is not certain of the vote count.

"It's too early to tell if one [bill] will pass or if either will pass," Dillon told us, adding that he and his constituents have grown increasingly frustrated by the seven-member council's inaction on this issue.

The Vitale-backed bill would allow slots only at certain sites south of Route 32 (the mall is to its north), including Laurel Park racetrack. Vitale said she thinks there are several potential sites besides the track -- which is set to be auctioned off by bankruptcy court early next year -- that would be eligible under the legislation.

Cordish's proposal for Arundel Mills, however, is the only bid currently pending before the state commission that is responsible for issuing licenses to operate Maryland's five authorized slots parlors. With 4,750 machines, the mall site would be the state's largest.

Vitale said that she has come to believe that "slots at Arundel Mills is a more difficult site than people initially thought." Neighboring homeowners have been particularly vocal in their opposition, fearing increases in traffic and crime.

Vitale said that her bill does not necessarily spell defeat for Cordish. She said it is possible that the state commission could allow the company to suggest an alternate site without reopening its bidding process to other interested parties. Vitale cited the commission's apparent willingness to consider a change of plans by bidders for the Baltimore site to move its facility a couple of blocks from where it was originally proposed.

Vitale said she is hopeful that she will have four votes for her zoning legislation but could not guarantee the outcome in December. "I do not count votes on the Anne Arundel County Council until the votes are taken," she said.

Dillon downplayed the chances of the Vitale bill passing, saying: "I'm not so sure what impact the bill will have at all."

Cordish, meanwhile, said that he is "extremely interested" in buying Laurel Park -- but that putting slots there is not part of the plan. In fact, slots "must remain at the Mills," Cordish told us.

The state commission disqualified a slots bid by the current owners of Laurel Park in February because it did not include a hefty up-front licensing fee.

However the drama in Anne Arundel plays out, Vitale said it is her sincere hope that it is off the council's agenda by the end of the year. Whether that is soon enough for the state commission, which is leaning on the council to act, remains to be seen. The commission meets again Wednesday.

By John Wagner  |  October 19, 2009; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  John Wagner , Slots  
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