Effort to rebid on slots fails

The Baltimore Sun

An Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge yesterday threw out Laurel Park's attempt to revive its disqualified bid for a slots license, boosting the prospects for a mega-casino and entertainment complex proposed for Arundel Mills mall.

In a 21-page opinion issued late yesterday, Judge William C. Mulford II concluded that Maryland officials were correct to disqualify Laurel Racing Association Inc.'s application for a casino because the now-bankrupt owners of the track failed to submit $28.5 million in required slots-application fees.

"What happens now is that either Laurel lets it die ... or they take an appeal," said Austin Schlick, chief of litigation in the attorney general's office, who presented the state's case in court last month. "It seems like a very strong decision with a solid statutory and constitutional foundation."

Alan M. Rifkin, an attorney for Laurel Racing, said in a statement that the track "will be considering its appellate options." The track's Canadian parent, Magna Entertainment Corp., which also owns Pimlico Race Course, filed for bankruptcy protection last week, and its CEO indicated that its Maryland assets were for sale.

Donald C. Fry, chairman of a seven-member commission charged with awarding the five gambling licenses authorized by voters in November, said the ruling appears to validate the panel's decision to toss out Laurel's bid. The track still has a formal appeal before the commission, and Fry said the members will consult with state lawyers at a meeting today about how to proceed.

Also at today's meeting, the slots commission is expected to announce that the Department of Legislative Services has awarded a consulting contract to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which will help the panel evaluate the four remaining proposals for casinos in downtown Baltimore, Arundel Mills, Cecil County and Worcester County.

The firm has a hospitality and leisure practice that advises Pennsylvania's gambling regulators, and Fry said his panel would rely on the consultants "to review financial documents and proposals from a business-model perspective."

In addition to the disqualified Laurel Park bid, Fry's commission in February threw out the only proposal for a casino at Rocky Gap State Park, also for failure to submit license fees. That decision opens the possibility of another round of bidding in Allegany County.

Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., developer of the Inner Harbor's Power Plant Live and similar projects around the country, is proposing a 4,750-machine casino and entertainment complex at Arundel Mills. The slots commission hopes to make decisions on the licenses by fall, Fry said.

Laurel Park was long considered a front runner for a gambling license because the legalization of slots was envisioned in part as a way to save the state's ailing horse racing industry. Rifkin argued in court that Laurel's failure to submit license fees was appropriate because the fees are technically not refundable and the bidding process constitutes an illegal "forfeiture of property" prohibited by the Maryland Constitution.

In his opinion, Mulford dismissed those arguments and declined to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the slots commission from proceeding with its work. "Further delay and uncertainty," he wrote, "would serve only to impede the clearly expressed interest of the General Assembly and the voters of Maryland."

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