With about a week until the Nov. 2 election, advocates on both sides are ramping up efforts in a campaign that has cost nearly $6 million to date. David Cordish, chairman of Cordish Cos., has increased his public profile, going door-to-door to make his case to voters, announcing potential restaurants at the casino and touting support from the business community.
The Maryland Jockey Club, which has financed the opposition group with hopes of bringing slots to Laurel Park, has said one of its facilities would close if the zoning measure passes — either Laurel, Pimlico or its training facility in Prince George's County. Penn National Gaming, which co-owns Laurel Park and holds the license for the Cecil County casino in Perryville, said recently that it would be willing to sell the Perryville property in order to develop slots at Laurel. State law does not allow a company to hold more than one license.
The fight has entered the governor's race, with Cordish recently blasting Gov. Martin O'Malley for not supporting the casino. O'Malley, a Democrat who is seeking re-election, has said racetracks are a more appropriate venue for slots. Republican challenger Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who lives in Anne Arundel County, has said he will vote for Question A.
The poll results show little difference between O'Malley and Ehrlich supporters on the referendum. Among voters who said they backed O'Malley, 49 percent said they favored Question A, with 43 percent opposed. By comparison, 48 percent of Ehrlich supporters said they were voting for the zoning bill, with 50 percent opposed.
Two years ago, about six in 10 Anne Arundel voters approved the statewide slots referendum, with many thinking slots were destined for Laurel Park. But the then-owners of the Jockey Club couldn't come up with the upfront financing, and many were surprised when Cordish was granted the license and proposed to build a slots parlor at the mall, situated halfway between Baltimore and Washington.
Carolyn Matthews, a retired federal worker who lives in Annapolis, said she is voting against Question A and doesn't like how the slots plan has evolved.
"It was supposed to save the race courses; that was my understanding," said Matthews, 65. "I think it should be at a racetrack."
Warren Buffington, a 53-year-old from Severn who said he lives "five minutes from the mall," said while he would welcome the added revenue from slots, he's concerned about adding more traffic to the busy roads near Arundel Mills. Still undecided, Buffington said he would be willing to throw his support to Question A if he had assurances that roads and intersections would be upgraded to accommodate increased traffic.
"My taxes are low now and I'd like to continue that way," said Buffington. "Hopefully the casino would prevent my taxes from going up too much."
An overwhelming majority of respondents indicated they feel knowledgeable about the issue, with 87 percent saying they understand Question A, while 10 percent said they "find it confusing" and 3 percent saying they weren't sure.
James Copper, a 50-year-old from Pasadena, said the onslaught of commercials from both sides has been more confusing.
"One says the casino's in the mall, the other says it's a separate building, so I don't know what to believe," said Copper. "It's more confusing than anything. I'd like to know what the truth is on that. Somebody's lying."
Copper, who said he doesn't gamble, remains undecided but is leaning toward voting against the zoning bill because of fears that the traffic around the mall would get worse. "It won't kill me if it goes there, but I'd just rather not have it at the mall. If you go over there on a Friday night, or during the holidays, it's gridlock."
The track, he said, is a better location.
Sun poll methodology
The Baltimore Sun telephone survey of 798 likely voters was conducted Oct. 15-20. The Sun's pollster, OpinionWorks of Annapolis, used a Maryland Board of Elections database to identify registered voters with a history of voting in gubernatorial elections or who had registered to vote since the last election, and obtained survey results from those who ranked themselves seven or higher on 1-to-10 scale of their likelihood to vote. The Sun's sample was designed to approximate the racial, gender, geographic, partisan and age breakdown of the state's voting population as a whole, based on turnout patterns averaged over the last four Maryland general elections. Results were weighted to reflect a higher-than-average Republican turnout this year, and slightly lower African-American participation than in recent elections. The margin of error for questions that reflect the entire sample is 3.5 percentage points, which means that in 95 times out of 100, the actual answer obtained by surveying every Maryland voter would be within 3.5 percentage points of the answer obtained by using the sample. For questions about Anne Arundel voters and slots, the sample size was 422 voters, with an error rate of 4.8 percentage points.