Delay for city slots parlor may be a good sign

After years of starts and stops, any delay in the effort to bring a slots parlor to Baltimore — and with it needed tax revenues for the city and state — is unwelcome. But on the whole, the decision by the state slots licensing commission to push back the deadline for bids on the project appears to be more of a good sign than a bad one. The reason for the delay is not that the state is having trouble finding potential bidders but that it is fielding dozens of questions from would-be slots operators about legal, technical and procedural issues. There are no guarantees, but that fact at least offers some reason to hope that this round of bidding will go better than the last one, when the city site attracted a single bidder who was later disqualified by the state.

What seems to be causing the greatest outcry over the commission's decision is the political calendar. The delay pushes the deadline past the date of the Baltimore mayoral primary, and opponents of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake evidently had been banking on lackluster bidding to bolster their case that she is incapable of running the city. Of course, it's unlikely that, had the bidding gone well, they would have praised her leadership.

The mayor did take some steps to increase the odds that the bidding will be successful — she clarified the terms Baltimore will agree to for rent and other considerations from a slots operator, and she eliminated questions about what parcels of land are available for a slots site. It certainly would be better to know the results of that effort before the city decides whether she should keep her job. But given the volume of issues Baltimore faces — crime, poverty, drug addiction, population loss, lagging student test scores and a week's worth of revelations about corruption large and small in city government —voters will have plenty on which to judge her leadership without a conclusion to the slots saga.

The important thing to remember is that, as slots commission chairman Don Fry pointed out, this is the state's show, and the city's considerations are secondary. Baltimore stands to get just under 3 percent of the take from its slots parlor; the state's stake is more than 22 times greater. Whether a delay is good, bad or indifferent for the mayor's re-election chances is irrelevant to the slots commission's mission, which is to produce licensees who will generate the maximum revenue for the state. In that context, the delay was the right decision.

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