Voters in Anne Arundel County today will finally have a chance to weigh in on Question A, the ballot measure that could determine the future of a proposed casino at Arundel Mills.
After months of debate, hard-hitting advertising and more than $6 million spent by campaigns on both sides, residents will have some resolution over whether slots will be allowed in Anne Arundel County. If passed, the Baltimore-based the Cordish Companies is expected to move forward with a plan for a large entertainment complex that includes a casino with 4,750 slot machines near the Arundel Mills Mall.
Question A does not address Cordish's proposal specifically, but instead asks voters to approve or reject a zoning law that would allow for slots in the county. Cordish currently holds a license to operate slots that is conditional on the zoning change approval.
A recent Baltimore Sun poll suggested that county residents are nearly evenly divided on the issue. David Cordish, the president of the Cordish Cos., is scheduled to appear at numerous polling places throughout Election Day.
In its opposition to the Cordish plan, the campaign No Slots at the Mall has cited concerns over traffic and safety at the mall, while also pointing to the casino's proximity to the mall food court. The campaign has also pushed for Laurel Park to be considered as a more appropriate place for slots.
"The voters of Anne Arundel County should not be bullied into slots at the mall," said Rob Annicelli, a Hanover resident and president of the No Slots at the Mall group. "The casino developer himself has finally admitted their are alternate sites for slots when Question A is defeated. The best option, Laurel Park, is a legal site for slots."
No Slots at the Mall comprises many volunteers that live near the mall, but the group is heavily funded by Penn National Gaming, which has a majority ownership of Laurel Park and owns casinos in Cecil County and West Virginia.
Supporters of slots point to the potential for thousands of new jobs and as much as $30 million dollars in new annual revenue to the county, as the state constitution requires 30 percent of all reand are quick to contend that a move of slots from Arundel Mills to Laurel Park or anywhere else in the county would be neither guaranteed nor easy.
While Cordish's plans call for the casino to be built in a standalone building next to the mall, slots opponents have sought to portray the structure as attached or even in the mall itself. One recent advertisement quoted Larry Tom, the county director of planning and zoning, as saying the casino would be "connected" to the mall; Tom blasted the commercial as dishonest, and clarified that it would be 120 feet away and only be connected via a pedestrian walkway.
Slots opponents did not back off their claim, and appeared unworried about any negative backlash.
"Regardless of whether they helped or hurt, they are accurate. Mr. Tom's boss signed the zoning into law and appears to have regretted the fact he initially told the truth," Annicelli said.
Cordish's plans at the site call for an entertainment complex that includes high-end restaurants and entertainment options, to be called "Maryland Live!" Reviews of the plan from shoppers at the mall were mixed, though most said they wouldn't object to the complex as long as the casino wasn't in the mall itself.
"I think it's a good idea, the state needs revenue," said medical student Bryan Curtin, as he ate lunch at the Arundel Mills food court Monday. Curtis admitted that using slots to generate money was "not ideal" but had no objection to the proposed location.
"It'd be one thing if they had slot machines in the food court," he said.
Supporters of the Cordish plan have garnered endorsements from teachers, police and firefighters, who would be directed funds from any revenue at the casino.
Business leaders, meanwhile, have stood behind Cordish on principal, as the company was the only organization that successfully followed the process to receive a slots license. Magna Entertainment, which had sought to place slots at Laurel Park, was denied a license after it was unable to pay the required fee.
"The Cordish Company made a business decision as to what their best location was and they went through the process," said Claire Louder, president of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. "It's been approved. From a business perspective, we are simply supporting the company that followed the rules."