Leopold speaks out against bill to prevent Arundel Mills casino
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold (R) spoke out forcefully Tuesday afternoon against a proposed county zoning bill that would not permit slots at Arundel Mills mall, saying the legislation amounts to a costly "prohibition" on expanded gambling.
The legislation, sponsored by Chairwoman Cathleen M. Vitale (R-Severna Park), was one of two dueling zoning bills introduced Monday night by council members. Vitale's bill would allow slots at certain sites south of Route 32. The mall is located to its north.
The other new bill, which Leopold supports, includes the mall as an acceptable location for a slots casino. A proposal by Baltmore-based Cordish Cos. to put slots at the mall is the only qualified bid pending before a state commission charged with issuing slots licenses. The Arundel Mills site would be the state's largest casino, with 4,750 machines.
"Given the fact that there is only one bid ... her bill amounts to a prohibition on slots in Anne Arundel County, which contravenes the wishes of voters in the referendum," Leopold said, referring to a statewide ballot measure last year that authorized five slots sites in Maryland.
Leopold said passage of Vitale's bill would cost the county about $30 million in "much-needed" slots proceeds it would receive as the host county of a casino.
Asked if he would veto Vitale's bill if it reaches his desk, Leopold said: "I don't think it's going to reach me."
It would take five votes from the seven-member council to override a Leopold veto.
Vitale has suggested that if her bill passes, Cordish could either try to move its planned facility to another site or that the state could re-open bidding for operators at approved sites.
One anti-slots council member said he thinks it is possible neither zoning bill will get the four votes necessary to pass after a scheduled hearing in December.
"I think there's a reasonable chance that's where we end up, with no bill," said Councilman Jamie Benoit (D-Odenton).
Benoit has sought legal advice as to whether Vitale's bill is problematic, given it applies different zoning standards to sites north and south of Route 32. Leopold said he agreed that the Vitale bill may be "flawed" in that respect.
The council has been in a stalemate over slots since March, when Leopold introduced a zoning bill that would have allowed slots at the mall. He later pulled that legislation after it had languished for several months.
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) voiced frustrations again Tuesday at the pace of deliberations by the Anne Arundel council.
"I would have hoped for all the time they have taken to look at this, they could have resolved it before December," he told reporters.
Benoit said he, too, is frustrated. "For anyone observing our government, it's almost laughable what's going on," he said.
October 20, 2009; 2:12 PM ET
Categories: John Wagner , Slots
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