By ADAM KERLIN
ANNAPOLIS (Jan. 22, 2010) - Delegates from Western Maryland told the state's slots commission Friday that the purchase of the Rocky Gap Lodge should be required of the developer who gets the Allegany County slots bid.
The delegation also expressed its support of the temporary placement of slots in the conference room of the Rocky Gap Lodge, as long as they are immediately removed when the permanent facility is built next door.
Don Fry, chairman of the commission, said the initial bid request, which did not garner a successful bid, gave developers the option of bidding on just a separate slots facility or the entire resort.
But Western Maryland's delegation now thinks it should be mandatory that the slots resort and lodge be included in the bidding process.
"We believe that the (slots) emporium should be in its separate building, but it would be hooked to the (lodge) in some manner," said Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany.
Other than the mandatory purchase of the lodge, delegates believe the site would attract more bidders if the package was more negotiable. Kelly said inclusion of the state-owned golf course near the lodge or any other suggestion from a potential bidder should not be ruled out.
The delegates also suggested money used to purchase the lodge go towards the $75 million commitment in construction costs bidders must make if the facility is to have 1,500 slots.
The commission accepted the recommendations, saying some of them might not even require a change to the drafted legislation.
"Certainly this commission knows it is in the best interest of the state to rebid this as soon as possible," Fry said.
Outside of Rocky Gap, four other sites are working to make progress.
Marylanders voted in 2008 to allow up to 15,000 slots at five locations, but the dismal economy and criticism of licensed locations has resulted in multiple setbacks at most proposed sites.
The commission rejected a proposal in December by the Baltimore Entertainment Group that would have put a casino in downtown Baltimore. The group failed to come up with sufficient licensing fees to support its bid.
The commission hopes to reopen that bidding process soon, but said a recent appeal by the Baltimore Entertainment Group will push back the process for 30 to 60 days, if not longer.
The Baltimore and Rocky Gap Lodge sites are the only ones currently unlicensed.
Ocean Downs in Ocean City, which was the first site to be awarded a slots license, is making progress after a temporary setback. Originally slated for a Memorial Day opening, development was stopped when asbestos was found in some of the racetrack's facilities.
Ryan Bishop, the commission's representative from the Department of Legislative Services, said despite the setback, the Ocean Downs facility should still open this fall.
"There is still some asbestos abatement to be done, but they are scheduled for that," Bishop said. "The state highway operation has also approved their traffic impact study."
To date, the most controversial site has been the development near Arundel Mills Mall. The Anne Arundel County Council approved slots at the mall and Laurel Park, but County Executive John Leopold supported the mall site.
The Maryland Jockey Club has vocally opposed Leopold's decision, saying Laurel Park racetrack won't survive without the slots. They've teamed with angry Anne Arundel residents who have started a petition that could delay the development near the mall if 9,500 signatures are gathered by Feb.5.
The only site currently unhindered is in Cecil County, where a facility housing 1,500 slots is under construction and is scheduled to open early this fall, committee members said.
Fry said the committee will discuss legislation that may be required as a result of some of the delegates' recommendations, but seemed optimistic about some of the developments.
"There should be two facilities open during this fiscal year generating some money and employing people," Fry said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.