Board OKs $168 million for Arundel Mills slots

The state Board of Public Works approved spending of $168 million to equip the Maryland Live! Casino expected to open at Arundel Mills in June with 4,719 electronic slot machines.

In a change from its previous deals to buy slots for the casinos in Perryville and at Ocean Downs, the state plans to lease the machines for the Arundel facility. The state, which will provide the machines to the casino operator, expects to collect revenue from the high taxes levied on slot machine gambling.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp voted to approve the deal, with Comptroller Peter Franchot dissenting because of his longtime opposition to state-sanctioned slot machines.

Franchot said that while he disagrees with the program, the state will get a better deal by leasing than it did from buying because it won't get stuck with unpopular machines.

Stephen L. Martino, director of the State Lottery Agency, agreed that leasing would give the state "greater flexibility to manage revenue." He said the agreements with machine vendors will allow the state to replace slots that earn less than 85 percent of the average take after 18 months.

Technically, the board gave the lottery, which oversees the slots program, permission to spend another $200 million on top of the $200 million that was authorized before the first two slots parlors opened. But because the $168 million, on top of $99 million previously spent, will put it over that limit, the agency sought the expanded authorization.