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As one casino opens, another hangs in the balance

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Friday, Sept. 24, 2010:

The Agenda

With Maryland's first slots casino set to open next week in Cecil County, it seemed an appropriate moment to ponder the predicament that state officials could have on their hands if voters in Anne Arundel County undermine plans for the state's largest casino in November.

WagnerOn Election Day, Anne Arundel voters get to decide whether to allow a local zoning law to stand that is needed for Cordish Cos. to move forward with its planned 4,750-machine facility in a stand-alone building outside the food court at Arundel Mills mall.

Monied interests are airing television ads on both sides, and the outcome is anyone's guess at this point. But there's a real chance voters could reject the zoning legislation.

Speaking to reporters this week inside the nearly complete Hollywood Casino Perryville, which has 1,500 machines, Donald C. Fry, the chairman of the state commission that picks slots locations, said he remains "hopeful" that the Arundel Mills casino will move forward.

If the ballot measure fails, Fry allowed: "We are back to square one in Anne Arundel County, where we were as of November 2008."

Thumbnail image for Anne Arundel slots.jpgThat's when voters statewide authorized five areas for possible slots venues, including one defined as within two miles of Route 295 in Anne Arundel.

From a procedural standpoint, Fry shared one crucial thing: If zoning is rejected by voters, his commission plans to wait for the Anne Arundel County Council to pass another zoning bill before deciding whether to reject Cordish's plan and solicit other bids for the Anne Arundel facility.

It took the better part of a drama-filled year for the Anne Arundel Council to pass the bill that will appear on November's ballot. It's on the ballot because opponents of the site -- including the operators of Laurel Park racetrack -- mounted a successful petition drive to put it there.

Because of term limits and other factors, at least five of the seven Anne Arundel Council members will be new after the November elections. So don't expect quick action on another zoning bill.

And there seems to be no consensus about what another zoning bill might look like. Often lost in the debate is the fact that the zoning law on the ballot is not specific to Arundel Mills. It also would allow slots at Laurel and several other locations in the 295 corridor with the same current zoning.

Perryville2.jpgIn theory, the council could pass a new slots zoning bill so restrictive that Laurel becomes the only practical location for a casino. Perhaps that is the most likely outcome. But that arguably runs counter to the state legislation, which was intended to foster competition within the 295 corridor.

In theory, the council could pass the same zoning bill again that voters reject. But that seems politically tone deaf -- and that bill would likely get petitioned to referendum again.

If all this drags on too long, state lawmakers -- and either Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) or Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) -- are bound to get frustrated with Anne Arundel officials. But they have no quick solutions either.

In theory, the legislature could try to move the Anne Arundel slots site to another county. But the five host counties were written into the state Constitution with passage of the November 2008 statewide ballot measure. Changing that would require another statewide vote, presumably in November 2012.

In the meantime, perhaps we'll see you in Cecil County.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

The debate over debates has yet to yield debates
Thumbnail image for debate.jpg"The two rivals running for governor say they're eager to debate, but the campaigns of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) continue to squabble over which format best suits their candidate's strengths," writes The Gazette's Alan Brody. "With less than six weeks until the general election, the lack of progress is testing the patience of media outlets and advocacy groups who are trying to broker a compromise between the two sides."

GOP obtains jobs report that disappeared from state site
"A mixed Maryland jobs report that a state agency posted briefly online last month and that ran counter to a more positive job-growth assessment at the time offered by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), appeared to resurface Thursday on the Web site of the Maryland Republican Party," writes The Post's Aaron C. Davis. "State GOP spokesman Ryan Mahoney said the party, which had filed a public records request for the document, obtained it by other means while it was waiting for the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to respond to its request."

Not a lot of talk around a Montgomery kitchen table
"Gov. Martin O'Malley conducted his first Montgomery County kitchen table talk of the 2010 election season with a group of not-so-talkative Montgomery County College students," writes The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey. "The Democratic governor asked the students about AP courses, career technical education and the economy. He delivered a portion of his stump speech, reminding them that in a tough budget time he'd protected education funding. They had few questions though -- and perhaps that's a good sign. The students, for the most part, reported that they were all either employed or on the path to fields with apparent labor shortages like nursing, engineering and green roofing."

House GOP candidates pledge tax cuts, open government
Thumbnail image for HouseGOP1.jpg"Republican candidates for the House of Delegates on Thursday signed a 'Prosperity Pledge for Maryland' that advocates rolling back some 2007 tax increases, fighting federal health care mandates and term-limiting committee chairmanships in Annapolis, among other things," writes The Post's John Wagner. "The pledge, signed by a few dozen of the party's candidates during a ceremony outside the State House, is an effort to present a unified message as Republicans seek to increase their numbers and relevance in November."

Historic Washington draft coming soon to State House
Thumbnail image for Cloudy State House.jpg"As he prepared to resign his commission as commander in chief of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington traveled to Annapolis. While staying at Mann's Tavern, he drafted the speech he would give on Dec. 23, 1783, to Congress, which was then meeting in the Old Senate Chamber in what is today the State House," writes The Sun's Mary Gail Hare. "Soon, State House visitors will be able to see Washington's draft in its entirety -- ink blots and all -- as the state prepares a new display in the very chamber in which he delivered it. A $60,000 grant from the Middendorf Foundation of Baltimore, announced Thursday, will help pay for a sophisticated display case that will protect the document in perpetuity."

Quotables

Joe Biden.jpg"We not only need her to win this race, we need her to win more races in this state. It will matter to the rest of the ticket. ... Elect her, reelect her, but don't do it on the margins -- do it big enough that her coattails are going to have some real impact."
-- Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at a fundraiser Thursday for the re-election of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

Thumbnail image for Franchot looks up.jpg"In the past three and half years I have never felt the need to respond to an article or column written about me, or positions that I have taken on public policy issues. However, today's Washington Examiner story is such a gross misrepresentation of my longtime position on Maryland's Purple Line project that I feel compelled to set the record straight."
-- Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), in a lengthy statement issued by his office calling attention to a Washington Examiner story about actions taken at Wednesday's Board of Public Works meeting

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Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics each weekday. You can also find First Click on Facebook and Twitter.

By John Wagner  | September 24, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  First Click, John Wagner  
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Next: Philips narrowly secures GOP nod to face Van Hollen in 8th district

Comments

RE: "As One Casino Opens, Another Hangs in the Balance" This just proves that its now or never for the slots at Arundel Mills. QA is an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up. Jobs and revenue!!! In this economy, who in their right mind would vote against that?

Posted by: Kimparker1971 | September 24, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Kimparker1971, your statement is not correct. Bill 81-09 which county executive John Leopold vetoed envisioned a casino location south of route 32. That proposal can be revived in Prop A is defeated.

The traffic at the mall is already horrendous and the casino will make it far worse. Plus, it will be followed by 24-hour liquor outlets and strip clubs, just as is the case in Atlantic City. No thanks. Put the casino at the track or somewhere else, not at the mall.

Posted by: RealChoices | September 25, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

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