More than 23,000 Anne Arundel County residents concerned about a casino at Arundel Mills mall have petitioned to place a slots zoning ordinance on the November ballot. In less than 75 days, county residents galvanized to oppose the establishment of one of the largest slots facilities on the East Coast from being placed at a family-friendly mall. Their efforts were historic and there is ample reason for their opposition.
They, like us, dread the thought of scores of gamblers leaving the casino and descending on the mall, our communities and our roads every day and night.
Arundel Mills mall already has serious crime and traffic problems. While it is true that tens of thousands of people annually visit Arundel Mills mall, that is hardly a reason to divert those people from shopping at the retail establishments that have invested in their businesses and to layer more traffic and congestion on our communities and county.
Many of us who oppose the slots facility at that location are not against gambling, just against the government's bait-and-switch tactic that now would foist one of the largest slots facilities in the country on a popular mall. The two are incompatible.
Parents are legitimately alarmed about co-mingling children with gamblers in such close proximity. Gamblers entering and exiting the slots facility would have easy access to the food court, shops, parking lots and other areas in the mall.
We hesitate to place slots facilities near schools and houses of worship because they may be too accessible to schoolchildren and the general public. Yet, this enormous gambling emporium, located in a highly visible and trafficked area and surrounded by residential communities, would serve as a visible beacon to children and families of every age. The inconsistency of that public policy is undeniable.
A recent editorial in The Baltimore Sun criticizing campaign advertisements against the project is misguided and glosses over these significant, serious community concerns. Our advertisement is accurate and represents the legitimate and deeply held concerns of the opposition. It states that Arundel Mills mall is a family-friendly environment (true) and a slots parlor does not belong there. That belief, as our petition drive indicates, is shared by tens of thousands of county residents.
The advertisement also states: "Let's use a common-sense location where gambling already occurs. … that creates more jobs and more revenue. … in a place gamblers won't mix with mall shoppers and kids."
Contrary to the Cordish Cos.' repeated statements, data submitted to the state shows Arundel Mills is not the only location that could produce enormous revenues for the Education Trust Fund. For example, a prominent gaming consultant projected that a slots facility at Laurel Race Course, where gambling has peacefully co-existed off the streetscape for almost 100 years, would be operational sooner and produce more net revenue to the state than a facility at Arundel Mills. And, there are other locations in the county that might be more appropriate for a slots facility. Gov. Martin O'Malley agrees with us on that point.
More important, very few people believed that Arundel Mills would be the site of a slots facility when we were asked to legalize slot machine gambling in 2008. To ignore the historical record, legislative intent and community expectations is journalistically unfair.
There are good reasons to oppose slots at Arundel Mills mall. Our television advertisement tries to set the record straight and begin the referendum debate in a responsible manner.
David Jones is chairman of No Slots at the Mall. His e-mail is ----