Slots at Arundel Mills - an offer we can't refuse?

The Baltimore Sun

It was real-life drama and not a movie, but something about it reminded me of a scene from The Godfather: The developer David Cordish shows up in the middle of the Maryland slot machine thing like Michael Corleone flying out to Vegas to make Moe Greene an offer he can't refuse.

Mr. Cordish arrives in this recessionary winter with a billion-dollar casino plan for Arundel Mills - a mall, not a racetrack - and he meets the state's deadline to put up $28.5 million for nearly 5,000 slot machines, and he does it with a big smile, saying to the people of Maryland and their elected leaders: "I got the best deal on the table, and I'm ready to go."


The confident, perpetually tanned Mr. Cordish says he could put 2,000 construction workers on the job in a matter of months. He says Arundel Mills, already pulling up to 14 million visitors a year, is the perfect place for a casino. Mr. Cordish says not to worry about a disturbance in the family atmosphere; he'll hire "pleasant, enormous" bouncers to keep kids from sneaking out of Dave & Busters and into the slots parlors.

That seems to be an offer the state can't refuse.

Except there's Thomas V. Mike Miller, the bellyaching state Senate president; he wasn't counting on this. In Mr. Miller's mind ("I'm Moe Greene!), slots have always been about his many friends in the racing industry, and slots have always belonged at Laurel Park Race Course. So you can understand why Mr. Miller would be ticked that his pals at Magna Entertainment, owner of Laurel and Pimlico, didn't put up their millions for slots by last Monday. (Magna announced two days later that it had placed its $28.5 million license fee in an escrow account, to be released once it gets certain refund guarantees. David Cordish, meanwhile, thinks the bid should be disqualified because it didn't meet deadline or other state requirements, and he's got a point.)

Of course, no one, including Mike Miller, was expecting Mr. Cordish to be a player here, though he's become a player in casino development around the country and made millions from it. Most people, including Mr. Miller, expected the big racetrack multinational - Magna Entertainment - to get Anne Arundel County's share of voter-authorized slot machines, and at Laurel Park.

But what happens?

Mr. Cordish happens - and not with just a boring slots parlor, but with a proposed billion-dollar entertainment complex. He's not looking to put this at a past-its-prime racetrack on Route 1, but at a shopper-destination mall two miles from an international airport.


So Mr. Miller, who usually gets his way on everything in Annapolis (they've already named a building after him there) can grouse all he likes about this. He can demand a lower state tax on slots revenue to make the deal more attractive to gambling interests. He can argue that Arundel Mills is no place for a casino because, God bless him, he wants to keep slots where children can't see them. And he can call for a do-over of the bidding process because he didn't like the outcome.

But it sounds like a lot of sour blather in light of Mr. Cordish's on-time and flashy proposal.

It looks as though the cash-rich Mr. Cordish, a Baltimore guy, has used his millions to muscle the debt-burdened, day-late/dollar-short Magna right out of the picture. (Magna lost $49.1 million in the third quarter of 2008 and hired a bankruptcy advisory firm in the wake of hundreds of millions of dollars in losses over the past four years, according to the Daily Racing Form.)

Mr. Cordish made the bidding deadline. He put his money where his mouth is, and so far he doesn't seem to be complaining about having to pay the state 67 percent off his take.

Is the state going to say no thanks because Mike Miller didn't get what he wanted?

It's too bad we're insisting that Maryland's 15,000 slot machines be scattered across the state. Otherwise, even more slot machines could be consolidated into Mr. Cordish's proposal, concentrating casino-style gambling at Arundel Mills, eliminating the scattered community fighting that's bound to ensue and reducing concerns that some of these locations will be busts. If any part of Maryland's slots plan needs a do-over, it's that.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Sundays on this page and Tuesdays in the news pages. He is host of the midday talk show on WYPR-FM.

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