- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | The Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved $71 million for school construction and two separate contracts tied to the development of slot machine gambling in Maryland.

The school construction money was approved unanimously by the three-member board that includes Gov. Martin O’Malley, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot. It is part of a total of about $267 million set aside for fiscal 2010.

Maryland has committed about $1 billion in three years for school construction, the most ever for a three-year period to address a long-neglected infrastructure.

The board also approved a $1.2 million contract on a 2-1 vote to develop a request for proposals to build a central system to monitor the state’s slot machines. The contract was awarded to White Sand Consulting of Atlantic City, N.J.

Mr. Franchot voted against the contract because while it was sent out to 21 potential vendors, only White Sand Consulting sought the contract.

“We don’t really know, as you can imagine, what the best deal is unless there’s another bid,” Mr. Franchot said.

Buddy Roogow, the director of Maryland’s lottery, said six vendors expressed interest. But state law forbids the winning bidder from participating in constructing the central system and distributing slot machines, and the other companies are interested in participating in the other business, Mr. Roogow said.

In addition, the board approved a $5 million contract for consultants to conduct background checks on bidders for the state’s five slot machine licenses. That contract went to Spectrum Gaming Group and MDB International. The state will be reimbursed by the developers for the background checks.

A lack of competition also has been a problem in overall slot machine development in the state. Currently, only four bidders have made proposals that are being considered in a licensing process that has been upended by the national recession. No site has a competitive bid at this time.

Bids for slot machine licenses submitted in February were a disappointment to state officials who had hoped additional revenue would ease tough budget times.

Of a possible 15,000 slot machines at five locations, developers only bid on 6,500 machines at four spots, including Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties and the city of Baltimore.

A bid in Allegany County was rejected by a state commission after a company failed to include an upfront licensing fee.

About half of the state’s proceeds from slot machine gambling are to be set aside to pay for education.

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