Slots commission rejects Landow's bid for Rocky Gap

Maryland's slots commission threw out a bid Friday by former state Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow to build a casino at Rocky Gap, leaving a single offer in play for the Western Maryland resort.

The decision concerning one of Maryland's five casino sites came as lawmakers sparred over the idea of expanding gambling to a sixth location and allowing table games as well as the current slot machines.

Donald Fry, the state slots commission chairman, said Landow's group failed to provide necessary financial and business data to support its bid. "We were never provided the full, detailed plan," Fry said after the commission voted 6-0 at a meeting in Annapolis to reject the bid. "Landow Partners is rejected for having deficiencies" in its proposal.

Iin a brief interview Friday evening, Landow said he was "disappointed" by the decision and had not decided whether he will challenge it. The state is still entangled in litigation stemming from the commission's decision two years ago to reject a bid for the Baltimore site.

Friday's decision means that only one group, Evitts Resort LLC, has a proposal before the state to open a casino at the struggling resort in Allegany County. The group is a joint venture of three businesses and takes its name from a nearby mountain ridge. It has offered to open a casino with 850 slot machines.

State officials are still evaluating that group's proposal and will decide in late February or early March whether or not it should get a license, Fry said.

The Rocky Gap site has been a hard sell. The first two rounds of bidding didn't result in a qualified proposal, and the General Assembly had to provide deep financial incentives to draw interest. In September, three bidders came forward, though one was immediately rejected.

Ivan V. Lanier, a lobbyist for the Evitts group, said Friday he is pleased with the ruling. He said that his group has shown it has "the experience and the expertise" to build and operate a casino in Western Maryland.

Earlier in the day, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker pleaded with his General Assembly delegation to keep "an open mind" on allowing a casino to be built in his county, a position being pushed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

In 2007, when the state's gambling program was established, the Prince George's delegation voted to keep casinos out of the county.

But fiscal times have changed. Baker said his decision about whether to support an expansion would be based on the revenue the county could expect. He said he is facing a $125 million budget gap.

"We are looking at options in terms of raising revenues," said Baker.

In a nearby hearing room, lawmakers from Anne Arundel County, where the state's largest casino is being built at the Arundel Mills mall, expressed concern that a new site would siphon revenue from the county's gambling palace.

While some officials are eyeing the revenue that could come from legalizing table games, Del. Ron George, the Republican chairman of the Arundel delegation and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he opposes allowing them at Arundel Mills.

"A lot of what helped slots pass in the first place were promises that it wouldn't expand," said George, who added that he would have concerns about any plans for a Prince George's casino, which would compete with Arundel Mills.

Baltimore Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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