By BOBBY MCMAHON
ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 22, 2009) - State officials sent a clear message Wednesday to those involved in the slots bids in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County.
Even as the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission formally approved a bid to place slot machines in Cecil County, commission members expressed frustration at the lack of progress of the two remaining slots bids.
By a 7-0 vote, the commission granted a license to Penn Cecil Maryland, a subsidiary of Penn National Gaming, for 1,500 slot machines in an 86,440-square-foot casino in Perryville. The casino is slated to open Oct. 2010.
Steven Snyder, a senior vice president with Penn National Gaming, said the sale of the land would likely be completed this week, with construction slated to begin Monday.
"It's a great opportunity for us, for Perryville and for Cecil County," Snyder said.
As for the remaining two bids, the commission set a deadline of Dec. 17, a scheduled meeting for the commission, to make a decision. Donald Fry, chairman of the commission, said the time period was a "reasonable expectation of time that we should be able to conclude our business."
While saying that Dec. 17 was not a "drop-dead date," Fry said that "we're sending a message that we're very interested in resolving this matter by the date."
The obstacles to slots at the two sites are vastly different. In Anne Arundel County, the bid to place 4,750 slot machines next to Arundel Mills shopping mall requires zoning approval from the Anne Arundel County Council. Lottery location commission members, including Thomas Barbera and Robert Neall, were outspoken in their frustration with the lack of action on the part of the county council.
"I discovered when I was in college that when no decision is made, the answer is no." said commission member Thomas Barbera in reference to the lack of action taken by the county council.
A bill to allow for the casino to be built at Arundel Mills was introduced at the county council meeting Monday. The council, however, also introduced a second bill that would allow a casino to be built south of Route 32 and would effectively doom the planned casino's construction next to the shopping complex.
Fry said that, by law, the commission can only approve a bid that has its zoning in place. As the Arundel Mills site is the only approved bid on the table, Fry said the commission is not permitted to consider another site in Anne Arundel County without re-opening the bidding process.
The county council will hold a public meeting on the zoning legislation on Dec. 7. Council rules dictate that a vote cannot be held after midnight, so a final decision could be pushed to Dec. 21 or later.
As for Baltimore, the Baltimore City Entertainment Group has been public about its plans to increase its bid from 500 to 3,750 machines and move the proposed casino to another site near M&T Bank Stadium. But they have missed several self-imposed deadlines to submit an amended proposal, provide the addition $19.5 million in fees to the commission and give necessary information to the State Lottery Commission conducting a background investigation.
Commission member Robert Neall said he would like to see "a proposal that has a shelf life of more than a couple of weeks."
"This is a lot like painting a merry-go-round while the horses are going up and down," Neall said. "It gets sloppy."
Maryland voters approved 15,000 slots at five locations in the state in a referendum last November, but the process has been marked by strong debate about where slots should be located. The commission, which is scheduled to meet next on Nov. 12, last month approved a bid to place 800 slots at Ocean Downs, a harness racetrack in Worcester County.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.