After months of planning, a group led by gambling giant Caesars Entertainment Corp. is expected to get the green light Tuesday to build a 3,750 slot-machine casino ringed with restaurants a few blocks from M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Maryland's slots location commission — which has been considering an application by CBAC Gaming since September — is scheduled to vote on the plan when it meets Tuesday. The Las Vegas-based gambling company has teamed up with a number of local partners, including Baltimore financier and philanthropist Eddie C. Brown.
"We're hoping to be in a position to make the award,"Donald C. Fry, the commission chairman and president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said Monday.
The vote comes as the General Assembly is set to return to Annapolis next week for a special session to consider major changes to the state's nascent gambling program. Proposed legislation would authorize a sixth casino in Maryland and allow table games like poker at all six. Voters would have the final say in November.
The extra casino would be in the Washington suburbs, about 45 miles south of the new Baltimore site. Caesars officials say they could accept the additional competition as long as they could offer table games, which the casino brand is known for. The company runs the popular World Series of Poker tournaments.
The Baltimore casino would operate under the Harrah's name. As planned, it would be Maryland's second largest when it opened in mid-2014. Company officials estimate it would bring in about $324 million annually in state taxes. Through a separate city tax, Baltimore expects another $16 million a year. MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake says she would use much of the cash to reduce the city's property tax.
CBAC Gaming was the only group to submit a qualified bid last September to build the city casino. It included 27 principals — so many that a minibus was required to transport them all during a site visit last fall. The group has since swelled to 37.
"We anticipate a decision, we can't comment beyond that," said Robert Ruben, an attorney for CBAC.
The group was far more effusive in a recent letter to Baltimore city lawmakers, writing that it awaited the slots commission decision with "great excitement" and promising its casino would "anchor" economic development and growth in the neighborhood.
Plans call for a two-story, 3,750 slot machine casino on Russell Street.
Caesars CEO Gary Loveman pledged in November that he would bring a "world-class" casino to Baltimore. He said it would attract gamblers from across the country and the world.
However, Rawlings-Blake has since said that the company would build a "slots barn" — shorthand for a cheaply built facility — unless the state allows table games like blackjack and poker. Currently, state law allows only slot machines. The mayor is among those who have been pushing for a special session so the General Assembly could vote on a bill to allow table games.
Loveman and others in the Caesars group also have supported proposed changes to the gambling program. Jan Jones, an executive vice president with Caesars, said the city casino could be the "nation's next great destination location."
Members of Baltimore's House delegation have been skeptical. Several have said they believe the city's interests would be best met by adding table games — but not the competition of a sixth casino.
"We are just interested in making sure that Baltimore as well as Caesars gets the best possible deal," said Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat. "We do want Caesars to get this because we do want a casino in Baltimore."
The Baltimore license was supposed to have been awarded in early June, but the addition of new investors required additional background checks.
Some in Annapolis have accused the Caesars-led group of "slow walking" the background-check process to buy time as state Democratic leaders considered the changes to Maryland's gambling program. But Fry blamed the delay on a separate work group in gaming expansion that met in June and poached his staff.
If the license is awarded Tuesday, the group would still have 60 days to settle a land agreement with Baltimore. Unlike most of the state's casinos, Baltimore's gambling site is on city-owned land, which adds a layer of bureaucracy to the approval process.
Tuesday will be the second time that the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission has considered licensing a city casino. In December 2009, the commission rejected an application by the Baltimore City Entertainment Group, a Canadian-led outfit.
The rejection resulted in litigation, which delayed the process.
"I think we are all eager to move forward and make this happen," said James King, a former Republican delegate who is on the state commission. "I haven't received any information that would deter me from supporting it."
Who is CBAC Gaming?
A state commission is likely to decide today whether CBAC Gaming should get a license to open a slots casino in Baltimore. Here's who makes up the company, and how much they own:
•Caesars Baltimore Investment Co. (52 percent) Company is wholly owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp., which runs more than 50 casinos in the U.S. and overseas. Key players include Leon Black, a billionaire investor.
•Rock Gaming Mothership (37 percent) Subsidiary of a company that owns Cleveland's new casino and another set to open in Cincinnati next year. Principal executive is Daniel Gilbert, who owns the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA.
•Stron-MD Limited Partnership (5 percent) Limited liability corporation controlled by Belinda Stronach, daughter of Magna Entertainment Group founder Frank Stronach, whose company owns Pimlico and Laurel, among other race tracks. Belinda Stronach is a former member of Canada's Parliament.
•CVPR Gaming Holdings LLC (4 percent) An affiliate of Caves Valley Partners, a group of local business people that includes Anthony Deering, former CEO of the Rouse Co., and Steven B. Fader, CEO of MileOne Automotive Group. Also involved in CVPR are Michael Bronfein, CEO of Remedi SeniorCare and a founder of NeighborCare, and Theo Rodgers, a prominent African-American developer in Baltimore.
•PRT Two LLC (3 percent) A local group that includes Baltimore money manager Eddie Brown, a leading African-American businessman; Maria Beckett, James Scott Jr. and Cecil Flamer.
Percentages are rounded