Anne Arundel

Arundel County Council hopefuls appear to favor slots at Arundel Mills

Most of the candidates vying for a vacant seat on the Anne Arundel County Council appear inclined to vote on rezoning Arundel Mills mall to allow the state's most lucrative slots parlor to be built there.

The leanings of the six aspiring council members moved front and center into the slots debate because the current council on Monday again delayed voting on the contentious issue, rescheduling its decision until after they pick a new member Dec. 17.

According to interviews and responses to a questionnaire, none of the applicants for the seat would state definitively how they would vote, though many voiced some support for Baltimore-based Cordish Cos.' plan to build a 215,000-square-foot entertainment complex in the parking lot of Arundel Mills - and specifically for the prospect of millions of dollars in revenue the project is expected to bring.

While the state slots commission on Monday approved a license for the Arundel Mills casino, the council is also considering a competing zoning bill that would allow slots in an area that includes Laurel Park racetrack.

The council was scheduled to decide on the two zoning proposals Monday but delayed voting because only four of the seven members were available to vote.

Instead, they will vote on Dec. 21, when a new member will have been selected to replace Josh Cohen, who resigned from the council to become Annapolis mayor. The candidates are: Cynthia Abney Carter, vice chair of the Annapolis housing authority board and a former alderwoman; Charles W. Ferrar, a small-business owner; John A. Giannetti Jr., an attorney and former state senator; Lisa Hillman, a senior vice president at Anne Arundel Medical Center; Michael G. Miller, a real estate investor; and William Moulden, a teacher.

Responding to detailed questionnaires written by Councilman James Benoit, some of the candidates signaled a preference for slots at Arundel Mills. Benoit, a Democrat and slots opponent, said he would personally call the candidates and tell them to "bone up" on slots.

In an interview, Carter said, "That's where my heart is going, because we need the money." She added that she thought slots at Arundel Mills would not preclude slots at Laurel Park in the future.

Giannetti, in a written questionnaire, said he was for slots, but locating them at a location other than a racetrack "tempers my support" because voters thought they would be located at Laurel Park. But ultimately, zoning for a site somewhere else "should be passed," he said.

Ferrar, who owns a liquor store, said "it was a possibility" that he would vote for slots at Arundel Mills.

"I'm pro-slots, but you've got to consider the impact on neighborhoods," said Ferrar, adding: "But I'm going to vote for a slots bill."

Hillman said she needed to get "up to speed" on the legislation.

"I think the important thing is we, meaning Anne Arundel County, not lose this opportunity to have this amazing revenue stream," Hillman said.

In his questionnaire, Moulden wrote, "I am predisposed to granting video lottery terminal zoning to applicants acceptable to the state."

Miller, who has never sought public office, said he would be willing to vote for slots at Arundel Mills.

"I think everybody needs to be very, very clear on what they would or would not do," Miller said Monday's night postponement was another frustrating turn in the slots debate that has divided the council for the past nine months. Council members Cathleen M. Vitale, Daryl Jones and Tricia Johnson have said they are undecided on slots at Arundel Mills. Councilman Ronald C. Dillon supports slots.

Johnson missed the meeting, having gone to the hospital for heart problems, and Council Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks abruptly recused himself last week because of a potential conflict of interest involving business dealings with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who said that he was considering buying the bankrupt racetrack with the hopes of bringing slots there.

The owners of Laurel bid on a slots license, but they were disqualified after failing to pay a licensing fee.

Joe Weinberg, a principal in the Cordish Cos., said in an e-mail Tuesday that it was "appropriate" to postpone the meeting because of the absences.

Vitale and Jones further sparked hope for a chance of slots at Laurel when in October they co-sponsored an opposing bill that would allow slots in an area south of Route 32, including Laurel Park,.

But with that bill not garnering much support and facing an onslaught of slots supporters, the two appeared to signal that they could approve zoning for Arundel Mills at Monday night's meeting. They introduced two amendments to the Arundel Mills bill that would require more parking and a stricter approval process.

But both amendments died, and it's unclear whether either council member will reintroduce them.