Arundel delegate seeks to send slots 'message' to council

Adding another dimension to the slots debate days before the Anne Arundel County Council is set to vote on zoning for a casino at Arundel Mills mall, a state delegate has filed a bill that would restrict the location of video lottery terminals.

Del. Ron George, an Annapolis Republican, drafted a bill that would prevent the terminals from being located within 1,000 feet of a shopping center, church community center, playground or school unless the facility is at an existing horse racetrack.

Both the County Council and the State Lottery Commission will have acted on the Arundel Mills proposal by the time George's bill is considered in next year's legislative session, so it would likely have little or no effect on the state's largest slots proposal. But it's unclear the effect it might have on the two remaining sites in Baltimore and Rocky Gap.

George said he introduced the bill now to "send a message to the County Council" before its anticipated vote on slots zoning set for Monday night.

"I believe it's a genie you're not going to get back in the bottle, and it's better to get it right first," said George.

Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. wants to build a 4,750-machine facility on the parking lot of the mall. But the seven-member County Council is split on the plan and has been debating for months.

The venue would potentially be the most lucrative of the five locations approved by voters last fall, generating about $450 million yearly for the state and $30 million for the county, some studies show.

The State Lottery Commission, which is also set to vote Monday on licensing for the facility, has signaled it will approve the Cordish proposal. County Council Chairwoman Cathy M. Vitale, who is undecided, introduced an alternative plan in October to place slots miles away from the mall, just south of Route 32 and far from Arundel Mills' residential neighbors, many of whom have fought to keep a casino away. Vitale did not return a call seeking comment on George's bill.

George said he spoke with three council members, whom he declined to identify, about his proposal, and received "positive responses."

A spokeswoman for slots proponent House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, said the speaker had not seen the bill and could not comment.

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