A $5.5 Million Pot – Slots Zoning Back On November Ballot – Horsemen Seek Solomon – Penn National Teams up with MJC – Cordish Files Complaint Against Penn National
Ah, summer time…and the livin’ is easy…
THE PREAKNESS $5.5
While MI Development’s Maryland tracks are mired in mucky slots slop, the Canadian Corporation is moving forward with plans to amp up interest in the 2011 Preakness by offering a $5.5 million dollar bonus to the Preakness winner IF said winner has won two qualifying races at one of MID’s other three tracks (Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Park, and Golden Gate Fields). For details, see Liz Farmer’s August 27 article in the Daily Record. or Sandra McKee’s article in the August 27 Baltimore Sun.
SLOTS ON THE BALLOT
“Yer out!” cries one umpire…errrr, judge; “Safe” cries another!
And so goes the long, drawn-out umpteenth inning of the endless ballgame called “Slots in Anne Arundel County”.
On June 25, 2010, the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court threw out the now infamous slots referendum. According to the Daily Record, Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth sided with the plaintiff (Cordish), barring the referendum on the grounds that the constitutional provision and laws allowing for slots were designed to raise money, noting that “appropriations measures are not subject to referendum under the state constitution.”
But on Tuesday, July 20, the Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision; according to the Baltimore Sun, the legal reasoning of the Court of Appeals had not yet been released. Click here for the Baltimore Sun article.
Where is Solomon when you need him?
Yes, you read that right. A vote against slots zoning at Arundel Mills is also a vote against slots zoning at Laurel – no matter what the Jockey Club might say. If the good citizens of Anne Arundel County vote against the current slots zoning, there is no guarantee that Laurel – and Laurel alone – could then be zoned for slots. The Maryland Jockey Club (and its owners, MI Development) would have to start over (see the June 2010 Equiery in which the assistant to the County Executive explains why the County Executive is not inclined to support slots at Laurel only.) This is not an opinion. This is a fact, a fact which the Jockey Club has acknowledged.
So, a vote against the current slots zoning in the slight hope that Laurel might then get slots zoning is a big gamble. But hey, that is racing, right? Everyone loves the long shot.
In case you have not been following the continuing slots debacle, or are a tad confused as to “Who’s on First, What’s On Second,” the elevator summary is as follows:
- The Maryland Jockey Club failed to follow the correct procedures when applying to the Maryland State Video Lottery Commission for the right to have slots at Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County by failing to file the required $28.5 million licensing fee – so their application was thrown out.
- Meanwhile, the Cordish Companies followed the required procedures in their application to the VLC to open a slots casino near Arundel Mills Mall, file the application fee, and was duly awarded the only Anne Arundel license for slots.
- Anne Arundel County has no provisions in its zoning codes to allow for slots anywhere, so it had to create zoning for slots; the County Commission approved two zoning options, one allowing slots only at the race track and the other allow slots anywhere in the County within the bounds described in the amendment to the Maryland State Constitution which allowed for slots.
- When it came time to sign one or both bills into law, the Anne Arundel County Executive decided to choose the option that aligned with the Maryland State Constitution…and that was the option to allow slots at either the Laurel Park site or the Arundel Mills site.
- The Maryland Jockey Club took exception to this, and launched a petition drive to move the new zoning law to a referendum, in order to let the citizens of Anne Arundel County decide whether or not to zone for slots at both Laurel Park and Arundel Mills. MJC was successful in gathering enough signatures to move the zoning approval to referendum.
- Since then the Cordish Companies have been exploring every avenue possible to shut down the referendum – in order to allow the zoning law to stand as is (slots at either Laurel or Arundel Mills).
Maryland horse people have been very divided by the referendum issue. On the one hand, there is the issue of loyalty, of supporting the equine-related business (the Maryland Jockey Club) rather than the non-equine related business (the Cordish Companies) – despite that the equine-related business is owned by a non-equine related business, MI Development (which has expressed the possibility of developing Laurel Park if the racetrack fails to be profitable)… there is just that tendency to be loyal to “our” Jockey Club.
Then there is the philosophical issue of, if we are going to have slots, slots should be confined to existing gambling establishments, i.e. racetracks…that new gambling establishments do not need to be created.
But then there is pragmatism…the Maryland Thoroughbred industry needs slots now, not later…and somewhere, anywhere, is better than nowhere. And many Maryland horse people are aware that, were the Jockey Club to succeed in raising enough opposition to slots at Arundel Mills (to defeat the zoning law in referendum), in so doing, they are imperiling the possibility of there ever being slots anywhere in Anne Arundel County, even at Laurel Park. Opposing the current law that allows slots at Arundel Mills also means opposing slots at Laurel Park.
Ah, but MJC says that if the voters are successful at killing slots at Arundel Mills, there is nothing to worry about; MJC will make sure a new law gets passed that will allow slots at Laurel Park. This is cold comfort coming from the organization that didn’t get their slots application correctly submitted in the first place. If MJC had gotten its application and the accompanying fee correctly submitted on time, we wouldn’t be having these issues now.
Suffice it to say, no matter where Maryland horse people stand on the MJC v Cordish issue, we all just want to be able to move on, without moving on to another state in order to run one’s Thoroughbred business. But we continue to wait, and the Thoroughbred industry continues to slowly suffocate.
On August 5, the Anne Arundel County Board of Election approved the ballot wording for the slots zoning referendum, and the wording has been met with controversy as some believe that the wording makes voters think they are voting on slots rather than zoning. Below is the wording as it appeared in The Capital on August 6:
“Question A – Local Referendum by Petition, Zoning, Video Lottery Facilities
Video Lottery Facilities are not permitted anywhere in Anne Arundel County under current zoning law. Bill No. 82-09 is a zoning bill and was enacted for the purpose of allowing a Video Lottery Facility as a conditional use in a W-1 Industrial Park zoning district or at a Regional Commercial Complex. Vote ‘For Bill 82-09’ if you want Bill 82-09 to take effect. Vote ‘Against Bill 82-09’ if you do not want Bill 82-09 to take effect.”
Rocky Gap Seeks Developer
On Monday, July 19, a Maryland commission approved the request for proposals to build a casino at Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort in Allegany County near Cumberland. The commission had asked for proposals a year ago but did not receive any. Now the Associated Press reports that the Maryland General Assembly has passed a series of incentives to help bring in a developer.
If a slot machine operator buys the state-subsidized lodge, the operator will receive 35.5% of the gambling revenues for five years instead of the 33% allowed at other sites. The developer will also be allowed to put 300 slot machines in the actual lodge while the casino is being built. The casino will also be attached to the lodge to allow easier access for patrons. In addition, the Maryland General Assembly reduced the tax rate for Rocky Gap in hopes of attracting a bidder.
Machines Arrive at Perryville
The first slot machines arrived at the Hollywood Casino in Perryville on Wednesday August 4. By the following Monday, over 900 machines were installed at the casino, which is set to open on September 30. Once open, the casino, owned and operated by Penn National Gaming Inc., will staff 350 full-time positions, two eateries, a gift shop, and a video poker bar.
In Baltimore County, Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer continues to press administrative appeals in hopes of building a 3,750-machine casino in downtown Baltimore City. In February 2009, Moldenhauer’s Baltimore City Entertainment Group (BCEG) submitted an application for 500 machines. Shortly after that, they increased the request by 3,250 machines. However, Moldenhauer failed to pay the $19.5 million fee for the slots by the September 2009 deadline. The following month, Baltimore’s Board of Estimates approved a deal with BCEG to put the casino on the city-owned Russell Street site. The state then extended the deadline to December 10, which BCEG missed again.
This caused several key members of BCEG to sue Moldenhauer in February 2010 over unpaid fees. Then the city terminated the land deal with BCEG in June of this year causing BCEG to file suit against the city. The city counter-sued in July. The State Board of Contract Appeals is now scheduled to hear BCEG’s appeal sometime between September 28 and October 1. Until this issue is resolved, no other prospective developers can make proposals for casinos in Baltimore.
MI Development & Penn National Team Up
MI Developments Inc. and Penn National Gaming Inc. have teamed up to own and operate Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, and the Bowie Training Center. The Maryland Racing Commission approved the transaction on June 28 and the official joint venture began on June 30.
Cordish Sues Penn National
In response to Penn National agreeing to team up with MJC, the Cordish Companies has files a complaint with the Maryland Lottery Commission, claiming that Penn National’s involvement is a direct attempt to stifle legitimate competition, because by joining forces with MJC and their efforts to reverse the approval for slots at Arundel Mills, Penn National is simultaneously bolstering its two other slots parlors, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and the soon to be opened Hollywood Casino Perryville in Maryland. According to the Daily Record, “Cordish claims the arrangement with the jockey club would violate state law that prohibits one person or company from holding ownership interests in more than one Maryland casino.”
In the complaint before the Lottery Commission, the Cordish Company claims that if Penn National & the Jockey Club are successful is defeating the slots zoning referendum, it will be at least five years before Anne Arundel will get slots, which means $2 billion in revenue the state will lose, which Penn National’s out-of-state casino will thrive.
All is Fair in Racing…
Or, at least, all are racing at the Fair…the Maryland State Fair…our last locally owned Thoroughbred track…stop by the Timonium track and see some good old fashioned horse racing, now through Labor Day.