Anne Arundel County

Slots opponents say Cordish violated election law

Opponents of slots at Arundel Mills mall are asking Maryland's attorney general to investigate claims that the Cordish Cos. violated election law by offering ownership stakes and perks to local business owners in exchange for support of its planned billion-dollar casino.

In a letter Thursday to Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, the group No Slots at the Mall contends that Cordish Chairman David Cordish acted improperly in offering local business owners the chance to invest in his planned Maryland Live! Casino, saying his actions "have the effect of improperly influencing the electoral process."

"These kinds of actions have the potential to undermine the fair electoral process and to undermine public confidence in the electoral system," reads the letter, signed by the group's chairman, David Jones. The letter cites a section of election law that states people cannot "influence or attempt to influence a voter's voting decision through the use of force, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward."

While the letter points out instances in which Cordish asked for support, he has not publicly offered anything of value in exchange for votes.

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Gansler, confirmed the office's receipt of the letter Thursday afternoon but said the attorney general had not yet reviewed it.

In an e-mail, Cordish called the allegations "desperate, ridiculous and last-ditch," and "another in a series of endless mistruths."

He added, "The state of Maryland has urged all the casinos in Maryland not only to employ significant numbers of locals, minorities and women, but also to offer these groups the opportunity to buy into the permanent ownership of the casino. We are extremely proud of the fact that we are the only casino that will … open our casino to investment."

The claim, the latest in a contentious fight in which both sides have spent at least $6 million, comes just days before voters in Anne Arundel County will decide the ballot question on zoning for slots in the county. Both sides have waged aggressive campaigns.

Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. holds a license to build a 4,750-machine slots parlor on the parking lot of the mall, and has promised millions of dollars in revenue from slots for schools and other critical services. The anti-slots group, financed by the Maryland Jockey Club, hopes to derail the Cordish plan and steer slots to the Laurel Park racetrack, arguing that the mall is an inappropriate venue for gambling.

The letter also refers to an Oct. 5 e-mail from David Cordish to prominent business owners, inviting them to be part of an "elite" group of business leaders "who would use their contacts and influence to help pass Question A." The e-mail says members of the local business council will receive perks at the casino once it opens, including "VIP parking, invitations to special events and programming at the casino, priority seating and reservations for restaurants and entertainment, and subject to applicable law, the opportunity to invest in the ownership of the casino alongside the Cordish principals."

Robert Annicelli, an officer of the anti-slots group, is quoted in the letter as saying Cordish is using "intimidation" to win.

"I think that Mr. Cordish is using his business associates to bully their employees to support his casino."