Caesars bids for Baltimore casino rights

Caesars Entertainment Corp., the world's largest casino operator, applied Friday for the license to run the slot machine parlor proposed for Baltimore, while three developers will compete for the opportunity to run a casino in Western Maryland.

Caesars submitted a bid for a 3,750-machine casino on Russell Street in Baltimore. The location drew another bidder, Baltimore City Casino LLC, but the company did not submit the required $22.5 million initial license fee and is likely to be disqualified, state slots commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said.

There will be more competition for the slots license at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Allegany County. Landow Partners LLC, the Bethesda firm owned by former Democratic state Chairman Nathan Landow; Allegany Entertainment Group and Potts Gaming; and Paragon Project Resources of Dallas, under the name Evitts Resort LLC, submitted bids for that license.

Earlier rounds of bidding failed to draw qualified applicants for either location.

Fry said licenses could be awarded early next year. For now, he said, officials will scrutinize the applications before the slots commission meets next week to ensure they meet minimum requirements.

"We'll have to continue to examine the proposals," he said. "But we're fortunate that the remaining two facilities that have not been awarded licenses now have applications to consider."

Maryland voters have approved slot machines for five locations in the state. The first two casinos have opened in Cecil County and on the Eastern Shore; a third is under construction at Arundel Mills mall.

In Baltimore, Caesars would be the lead investor and manager in a venture that also includes CVPR Gaming Holdings LLC; Rock Gaming LLC; and The Stronach Group.

Caesars, known for Caesars Palace and other establishments on the Las Vegas Strip, operates more than 50 casinos in 12 states and seven countries. Its brands include Caesars, Harrah's and Horseshoe.

Jeffrey Hooke, an industry analyst based in Bethesda, said Baltimore should be happy with the bid.

"You'd like more than one [bidder], but Caesars is top-shelf, so they've got to be pleased that Caesars showed up," Hooke said. "That's a legitimate operator, a well-known brand."

The Caesars application lists nearly 30 principals. They include Theo Rodgers, a Baltimore developer; Anthony Deering, the former CEO of the Rouse Co.; Michael Bronfein, a co-founder of NeighborCare; and Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

A Caesars spokesman declined to comment in detail on the company's plans for Baltimore. In a statement, Caesars chairman, president and CEO Gary Loveman said the firm would "look forward to the opportunity to build on our collective commitment to revitalizing urban markets nationwide through the creation of a world-class casino entertainment experience in Baltimore."

Fry called the bid from an investor that could put up the hefty licensing fee in a tough economy "a significant step forward" for the city.

Baltimore City Casino is affiliated with RMD Holdings, which has developed parts of National Harbor in Prince George's County.

After two rounds of bidding for Rocky Gap attracted no qualified bidders, lawmakers sweetened the deal by cutting the state's share of slots revenue from 67 percent to 50 percent and offering other incentives.

"The change in legislation appears to have succeeded," said James Karmel, a history professor at Harford Community College and a gambling analyst.

Paragon applied to operate 850 machines. Landow's group wants to run 500 slot machines; Allegany Entertainment Group and Potts Gaming together are seeking 200.

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