Temporary slots an option at Arundel Mills

Maryland's slots regulators said they would welcome a proposal for a temporary gambling facility at the Arundel Mills mall now that developers have won approval this week to build a billion-dollar slots and entertainment complex there.

"It's something that the legislation contemplates and we certainly want to see the state begin to reap the benefits," said Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state Video Lottery Terminal Location Commission, which awarded Cordish its license. "It's certainly an idea that would be entertained by the commission. We certainly hope that Mr. Cordish moves forward and becomes operational as soon as possible."

Cordish Cos.' chairman, David Cordish, won a resounding victory Tuesday, when Anne Arundel County voters approved zoning for the casino and entertainment complex. The win capped a contentious, $6 million campaign in which the developer went door to door to reach voters.

Cordish was mum on Wednesday about his next moves, but previously he said that he would attempt to win approval for a temporary casino, saying that structure could be as simple as a tent erected on the mall parking lot with slot machines inside. He has scheduled a news conference for Thursday.

A permanent facility is scheduled to open sometime in 2012, but on Tuesday, while at a polling station near Laurel, Cordish expressed interest in pursuing permission for a temporary casino that could open sooner.

"We are going to make a real run at that," he said. "I've done it before. You'll get two-thirds of the [projected] jobs and revenue with a temporary casino."

The Arundel Mills casino would have 4,750 slot machines, and could be the state's most lucrative slots parlor. The state's struggling slots program, which has seen a failed bid for a casino in Baltimore, could use the boost. Voters approved five gambling sites in a 2008 referendum as part of a program that was expected to bring in more than $600 million annually for the state budget.

So far, just one facility is operating. A 1,500-machine slots parlor opened last month in Cecil County. A second site, Ocean Downs in Worcester County, is expected to be operational by the end of the year.

Cordish opened a 70,000-square-foot temporary facility for the Indiana Live! Casino in the summer of 2008, a structure that was completed in less than five months. Less than a year later, the 233,000 square-foot permanent facility opened for business.

With zoning approval affirmed by voters, the permitting process, which was halted during the referendum fight, continues. Cordish has submitted a site plan to the county Office of Planning and Zoning and the process will pick up where it left off, said Larry R. Tom, the office's director.

Two outstanding issues remain: plans to deal with traffic and storm water runoff. Once the plan is approved, Cordish can apply for a permit through the county's Department of Inspections and Permits. Tom said he expected Cordish to have its permit "soon after the first of the year."

County Executive John R. Leopold, a supporter of the Cordish project, said he expects the permitting process to run smoothly.

"Much of the work has been done and the process is moving ahead," said Leopold. "We'll treat this application like another other applicant. We've made commitments to protect the adjacent residential community to deal with the issues of traffic and crime. My first priority is to mitigate the impact of the adjacent residential communities."

In Tuesday's vote, Cordish defeated the Maryland Jockey Club, which had financed the opposition to Cordish in hopes of defeating the referendum and getting a chance to steer slots to one of its ailing properties, Laurel Park race course.

Tom Chuckas, president of the Jockey Club, told reporters Wednesday that he was moving forward with plans to significantly curtail its racing operations. Chuckas said the company would ask for approval from state racing regulators later this month to eliminate live racing at Laurel — turning the facility into an off-track betting site. Under the plan, the company would also close a training center in Bowie and run a 40-day meet around the Preakness at Pimlico.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has had said in the past that he preferred slots at the racetrack, said Wednesday he is "still sorting out the results of all that." He reiterated his preference for slots at the track, but said "the people of Anne Arundel County have spoken."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch also said he was "digesting" the outcome. He said the Jockey Club and its former owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., "have no one to blame but themselves for not being competitive on this. Magna had the opportunity to bid, and they didn't."

Of the decisive win for slots, Busch said, "One benefit is there's some finality to this." Plus, he said, the revenue from the large parlor "comes at a very opportune time."

Joseph Weinberg, a vice president at Cordish, trumpeted the company's victory in an e-mailed statement.

"The people of Anne Arundel County have spoken loud and clear that Arundel Mills is the ideal location for a world-class gaming and entertainment facility," he said.

Sun reporters Julie Bykowicz and Andrea Siegel contributed to this report.