By ADAM KERLIN
ANNAPOLIS (March 16, 2010)—Bills that would allow Maryland's slots facilities to have table games were overshadowed Tuesday by legislation aimed at attracting more contractors to the rebidding of the state's two unlicensed slots sites.
The addition of table games such as poker and black jack has been advertised by some legislators as a sure way of bringing in revenue and reducing the state's deficit, but talk of expanding the state's gaming industry comes before a single slot machine has been played in Maryland.
The Ocean City and Cecil slots facilities are set to open this fall, but two failed bids and a legal battle are keeping the state's three other sites from progressing.
Don Fry, chairman of the state's Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, testified for a bill in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that clarifies and amends the requirements of bidders hoping to contract the unlicensed sites in Baltimore and Rocky Gap in Western Maryland. The state wants to rebid those sites after problems with the original bids.
"Some of the things we think will make things a little more understandable," Fry said. "Some of those even deal with Rocky Gap as a special issue that the Western Maryland Delegation brought to us."
The bill would change the Rocky Gap site's proposal request to include the purchase of the Rocky Gap Lodge. The previous proposal request allowed contractors to decide if they wanted to purchase the lodge, but the Western Maryland Delegation and slots commission now agree that it should be included.
The Maryland Economic Development Corporation is in charge of the state-owned Rocky Gap Lodge. Robert Brennan, executive director of the development corporation, said the state does not have enough money to support the lodge and backs any measure that creates incentives for bidders.
"If they (a bidder) came in tomorrow and said we were going to do a fire sale, I'd be sitting there helping them light the match," Brennan said.
The bill also gives potential license holders 30 months to have slots in the Rocky Gap Lodge while they build a separate facility.
In addition to what the slots commission has offered as incentives, some legislators think the entertainment provided by table games is the best way to attract bidders.
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, D-Baltimore, is sponsoring the Senate version of a bill that would allow slots facilities to include table games. She thinks the state has overestimated the revenue slots will produce, saying table games will attract more businesses and conferences.
"Expanding these types of opportunities you'll get more bidders." in addition to creating business, Pugh said.
Maryland's decision to allocate 15,000 slot machines to five facilities hasn't produced one playable slot machine to date, and rebidding isn't the only setback.
Angry residents of Anne Arundel are going to court with the Baltimore based Cordish Cos. over the slots facility planned near Arundel Mills Mall.
The Anne Arundel County Council approved both the mall site and Laurel Park for slot machines in November, but County Executive John Leopold favored the new Arundel Mills site and a zoning license was awarded to the Cordish Cos. for development.
The Citizens Against Slots at the Mall coalition, largely financed by the Maryland Jockey Club, recently filed a petition with 40,407 signatures, much more than the 18,970 needed for a referendum, which would give voters a chance to decide the development's fate.
The Anne Arundel County Board of Elections has accepted enough of the signatures to put the measure on November's ballot. But the Cordish Cos. filed a lawsuit against the county's Board of Elections last month claiming a number of fraudulent signatures were overlooked.
The coalition against the slots site at the Mall announced its plans to intervene in the "baseless" lawsuit against the Board of Elections in a press release Tuesday. The group believes the Cordish Cos. suit violates a Maryland statue that prevents private companies from obstructing the legal and political rights of citizens.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.