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Anne Arundel slots zoning bill to be proposed

Tourism and LeisureCasino and Gambling IndustryTransportationLotteriesLocal Government

A bill allowing slots in Anne Arundel County is expected to be proposed at tonight's County Council meeting - the first step in changing zoning laws to legalize slots in the only jurisdiction in the state to receive two site bids for slots parlors.

A draft of the bill obtained by The Baltimore Sun would allow conditional uses of video lottery facilities in certain zoning districts and in regional commercial complexes. Currently, county zoning laws do not allow electronic slots parlors.

Anne Arundel received two site bids, one at Laurel Park racetrack and another at Arundel Mills. County Executive John R. Leopold said last month that he would draft legislation that would permit slots at either or both sites, subject to being chosen by the state.

Laurel Park was later disqualified because its parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., did not submit the nearly $30 million in application fees that the state required. Last week, owners of Laurel Park argued before a judge that disqualifying their bid was unconstitutional, with the state defending its action.

David Cordish, president of Baltimore-based the Cordish Cos. and the developer behind the Arundel Mills proposal, has visions of a billion-dollar entertainment, retail and residential complex, he has said.

Leopold's bill would require that the casinos be accessible to an arterial road within two miles of Route 295. Among the other stipulations: the facilities would have to include one parking space for every three video lottery terminals; they would have to comply with a transportation management plan approved by the county; and they would have to include lighting "that illuminates all parking areas and walkways and is focused so as to prevent glare upon surrounding areas."

The bill would also allow the casinos to serve alcohol.

Residents near Arundel Mills have adamantly opposed a slots parlor at the shopping mall, pointing to possible traffic problems, safety issues and a fear of decreased property value.

Councilman Daryl Jones, whose District 1 includes Arundel Mills, said the effect on the community is what concerns him most.

"Obviously, we have a great deal of concern for the communities surrounding the Arundel Mills area," Jones said, noting that he needed more time to review the bill before making assessments. The council received the bill just before the close of business Friday.

Jamie Benoit, District 4 councilman, said not only does he have concerns about the way the bill is drafted - he doesn't think slots should come to the county at all.

"I still don't think slots are a good idea for the county," Benoit said. "I certainly am going to be looking to enhance the community protections in the bill."

Benoit added that he is glad that the bill allows conditional, rather than permitted, use because that allows the possibility for changes. But he anticipates that the council will propose amendments in future meetings.

One concern Benoit said he had with the bill's language is that it would allow the slots parlors only in "W1" industrial park districts.

"When you allow it in the lowest-density zone, logically speaking, you should allow it in the higher-density zone also," Benoit said.

District 6 Councilman Josh Cohen has said that he will look closely at any bill allowing slots, mainly because of the effect he anticipates a parlor would have on local businesses. Cohen represents the district that includes Annapolis.

"People feel like the slots referendum was a classic bait-and-switch, like, 'Here, vote for slots at the racetrack, and we'll put them instead at the biggest family destination in the state,'" Cohen said, referring to the view many have expressed that the Arundel Mills bid was unexpected. "People I talk to feel like they've been hoodwinked, and they're none too happy about it."

The bill is being introduced at the same meeting in which Col. James Teare Sr., the county police chief, will answer the council's questions about how officers are to handle reports of suspicious activity in mall parking lots. The council asked Teare to address the members after an incident in January in which an anonymous 911 caller reported seeing what he believed was two people having sex in a mall parking lot in a car that turned out to be Leopold's county-issued vehicle. No charges were brought, and the county executive has said the call was "unfounded."

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