By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun
8:04 PM EDT, August 8, 2011
Baltimore officials are planning to sprinkle some sugar on the deal for a city casino by offering additional cash and assurances to potential developers.
The new deal would allow the winning bidder to take up to $6 million from a pot of cash that was created to ease the impact of a casino on surrounding neighborhoods and apply the money to required infrastructure improvements, Deputy Mayor Kaliope Parthemos said Monday.
The city also plans to give the casino operator more time to decide how much land it will need.
The new terms are scheduled to be considered by the city's spending board Wednesday. The changes will not reduce any of the revenues the city expects from a casino, Parthemos said.
She said the administration wants to "offer something" to potential bidders who have been grumbling about the 70 percent tax rate on gambling revenues that the winner will have to pay the city and state. She said "several groups" have expressed interest in building a casino.
Baltimore is the only one of the five locations in Maryland approved for slots in which the winning bidder must negotiate deals with both the city and the state.
Two casinos have opened, in Perryville in Cecil County and in Berlin on the Eastern Shore, and a third is under construction at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover. The state still is looking for operators to run casinos in Baltimore and at Rocky Gap in Western Maryland.
The state slots commission last month pushed the July deadline for city bidders back to September. Commission members said more time was needed to answer questions from prospective bidders.
The extension enables Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to avoid political embarrassment should developers fail to show interest. Bids now are due about a week after the Sept. 13 mayoral primary.
The mayor has staked political capital on a successful deal: She has promised to use proceeds from the casino to reduce Baltimore's property taxes, which are the highest in the state and double the rate paid by homeowners in neighboring Baltimore County.
The most significant change to the city deal is the decision to give developer access to an additional $6 million over three years from local impact aid set aside in the state gambling statutes. The developer will have to use the money for infrastructure improvements such as roads. Parthemos said the city still is trying to narrow that definition.
State law requires a "local development council," appointed mostly by the mayor, to determine how to spend the impact aid. Rawlings-Blake has not yet named one in Baltimore.
Baltimore's local development council is expected to receive about $17 million a year from casino earnings. Under the new terms, a developer could use $2 million a year for the first three years.
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