Attorney in latest slots appeal is lobbyist for the Maryland Jockey Club

The attorney representing opponents of a slots parlor at Arundel Mills mall in a new legal challenge is a registered lobbyist for the Maryland Jockey Club — the project's most vocal opponent — according to Anne Arundel County records.

Harry C. Blumenthal, an Annapolis attorney, is representing a homeowners association and three residents of a nearby housing development in a complaint alleging that Anne Arundel County officials improperly approved the Cordish Cos.' plan to accommodate increased traffic around a planned slots parlor and entertainment complex at Arundel Mills.

Blumenthal and the Jockey Club say the track owner is not involved with the current appeal, although Blumenthal said he has done lobbying work for the Jockey Club regarding slots zoning in the past.

Although Cordish has the proper zoning to construct the $1 billion casino, entertainment complex and seven-story parking garage, the complaint filed last week with the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals has the potential to slow construction because the process prevents the county from granting Cordish a building permit.

The appeals board plans to hear the case sometime in March and has 60 days from then to issue a ruling, which can be appealed to county Circuit Court.

Joseline Castanos, one of the residents named in the appeal, said she doesn't know who is paying Blumenthal.

"I don't know who's paying him," said Castanos, a program administrator at a local university who has lived in the community of homes near the mall with her husband and two daughters since 2000. "To me it's not relevant. The relevant thing is that we need the traffic to be addressed. The residents who live around the mall are the ones who are going to have to deal with it."

According to records filed with the county's Ethics Commission, Blumenthal is a registered lobbyist in Anne Arundel County for several clients, including the Jockey Club. It is not uncommon for attorneys to work as lobbyists for more than one organization and on a project-by-project basis.

"I have not done any lobbying work for the Maryland Jockey Club for quite some time, although I continue to be a registered lobbyist, as I again may become involved with matters applicable to Laurel Park," Blumenthal said in an e-mail Tuesday. "The Maryland Jockey Club informed me that it will not be paying me for the appeal."

Blumenthal, who has been a lobbyist for the Jockey Club since at least 2006, according to ethics records, said he has not recently been paid by the Jockey Club.

Since slots were first approved in Maryland, the Jockey Club, which owns Laurel Park Race Course, has pushed hard for slots at the track, advocating it as a way to rescue the state's beleaguered horse racing industry. After Cordish won zoning approval from the Anne Arundel County Council early last year, residents who live near the mall and oppose the casino, funded by the Jockey Club, secured a ballot referendum on the zoning, despite a months-long court fight waged by Cordish. Altogether, both sides spent about $12 million on the ballot referendum, which Cordish won.

In a brief e-mail, Tom Chuckas, president of the Jockey Club, said Blumenthal "does not represent MJC on [the zoning appeal]. MJC is not a litigant."

According to ethics disclosure forms, Blumenthal has earned about $175,000 through his work for the Jockey Club. The bulk of that money — $113,431 — was paid to him from May 1 to Oct. 31, 2010, during the height of the slots legal fight, according to the forms.

Including the Jockey Club, Blumenthal lobbies for 26 companies, including several developers. He is one of two registered county lobbyists for the Jockey Club.

In a follow-up e-mail, Blumenthal said, "The money paid to me was for work and lobbying associated with the complex and multiple zoning legislation applicable to casinos in the county."

Joseph Weinberg, president of development at Cordish, calls the newest challenge frivolous and another attempt at delay, saying his company plans various road improvements to accommodate traffic beyond what is required by law.

Weinberg said in a brief interview that he believes the Jockey Club is involved with the appeal.

"Mr. Blumenthal is a registered lobbyist for the Maryland Jockey Club," said Weinberg. "Common sense is common sense."

He added that while "there's a certainly a potential" for the appeal to delay the project, "We plan to keep plowing ahead."

Cordish, which plans to construct the parking garage containing a temporary casino with about 2,000 slot machines by the end of this year, and the entire 4,750-slot machine project by the end of 2012, has permission to begin site preparation during the appeal. Cordish officials say that grading work should take about two months to complete.

Retail giant Costco Wholesale Corp., which has a store adjacent to the mall, has filed a similar appeal regarding traffic issues. Joseph F. Devlin, the attorney representing Costco, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Regarding Costco, Weinberg said, "We're just working through some micro issues with them."