- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

FLINTSTONE, Md. (AP) | Two casino operators have expressed interest in buying the Rocky Gap Lodge if state voters approve slot-machine gambling this November, said a member of the Maryland Economic Development Corp., which owns the resort.

The 216-room, five-story hotel is in Rocky Gap State Park, one of five spots where slots would be installed under legislation passed by the General Assembly last fall.

The 10-year-old lakeside lodge and 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course are owned by MEDCO, a state agency that owes the project’s private investors more than $28 million.

Board member Barbara G. Buehl, who also is president of the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce, said Monday she has spoken with two casino companies that expressed interest in buying the hotel and merging the slots and hospitality operations.

“Food service, parking, rooms that may or may not be comped — it’s easier to have one person making those decisions than two different entities,” she said.

Miss Buehl declined to name the companies with which she has spoken. However, she said the golf course probably would not be included in such a deal.

She and MEDCO Executive Director Robert C. Brennan said there have been no serious purchase offers yet. But Mr. Brennan said he expects “very strong interest” by a casino operator if the slots referendum passes.

“If and when slots occur, it will create an entirely different economic scenario in which the resource will be valued,” he said.

The prospect of a sale was reported first by The Washington Post.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming Inc. signed an exclusive, 18-month option to buy 36 acres for a slots venue near the Interstate 95 tollbooths in Cecil County, another prospective slots sites.

If the referendum is approved, slot machines also would be placed in Anne Arundel and Worcester counties and in Baltimore city.

Rocky Gap, the most rural of the five sites, is in the Allegheny Mountains about 130 miles from both Baltimore and Washington. It would get 1,500 of the state’s 15,000 slots.

Resort general manager Tim Grambley said the most logical place for a slots casino would be on what is now a driving range next to the lodge.

Besides golf, the resort offers outdoor activities such as kayaking, canoeing, rock-climbing and fly-fishing.

The resort operated in the red for years and cannot make its $2.2 million in annual interest payments to bondholders, though they and state officials are working toward a financial restructuring, the newspaper reported.

Mr. Brennan said the lodge is on track to take in $12.5 million this year, which would cover operating expenses. He said business is off by 15 percent this summer.

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