Arundel Mills slots: Bad for families, bad for racing

For Anne Arundel County residents, the answer to Question A should be "no."

Arundel Mills mall is not an appropriate location for one of the largest slots emporiums on the East Coast; nor is it the only location in the county where slots can be located.

While slots at any mall in the county would be a bad idea, at Arundel Mills it's even worse. The mall already has serious crime and traffic problems. Traffic studies show that Route 100 and portions of the Baltimore- Washington Parkway will be gridlocked. Parents are legitimately alarmed about children co-mingling with gamblers in such close proximity. Gamblers entering and exiting the slots facility will have easy access to the food court, shops, parking lots and other areas of the mall.

We hesitate to place slots facilities near schools and houses of worship because they may be too accessible to children and the general public. Yet, this enormous gambling emporium located in a highly visible and trafficked area, surrounded by residential communities, would be a beacon to children and families of every age. If we make that mistake, it will be irreversible.

Many of us who oppose slots at the mall are not against gambling, just against locating the casino at a family-friendly mall when there is a more appropriate location. Contrary to The Cordish Cos.' misrepresentations that the mall is the only option, a slots facility at Laurel Park is legally permissible.

For more than 100 years, gambling has peacefully co-existed in our community at Laurel Park in the southwest corner of the county. Its facilities are off the street and well-served by a substantial road network, with more than enough on-site parking. In 2008, when slots were legalized in the state Constitution, most people believed that Laurel Park would be the best choice for the Anne Arundel County facility. It still is.

And, according to data submitted to the state by gaming consultant Paul Girvan (whose company did the initial research for the Maryland Jockey Club's application to the Maryland State Lottery Commission), Laurel Park would be operational sooner and produce more net revenue to the state than a facility at the mall. While the mall developer said it would have to erect a "circus-type tent" in the mall parking lot, Laurel Park already has facilities under roof.

Just as important, co-locating slots and racing would preserve jobs and create more of them. According to Tom Chuckas, president of the Jockey Club, if a slots facility is placed at the mall, it will "devastate" the Maryland horse racing industry, which presently employs more than 10,000 Marylanders, forcing Laurel Park to close and costing thousands of jobs, many of them held by county residents.

Unlike the Arundel Mills site, Laurel Park enjoys substantial support of the surrounding community, while the communities surrounding Arundel Mills vigorously oppose a casino in their midst. Laurel Park is a trusted, integral part of the county where many would welcome slots, and there already exists gambling and the infrastructure to support it.

While the casino developer wants to portray Question A as a dispute between gambling giants or West Virginia casinos — and has spent millions on misleading ads to try and divert public attention from the real issues — the truth is it's about us and our communities. Citizens from all walks of life and all corners of the county have mobilized to oppose Question A. Why? Because we know that a vote against Question A is a vote for our county, for jobs and for revenues.

Vote against Question A. Let's place slots where they belong.

David Jones is chairman of No Slots at the Mall. His e-mail is david.jones0528@gmail.com.

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