- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland officials on Wednesday extended their deadline for proposals for a planned Baltimore slots casino, further delaying a project already hampered by minimal developer interest and ongoing lawsuits.

Potential developers will have until Sept. 23 to submit proposals, rather than the previous deadline of July 28. State slots location commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said the move will give officials more time to address legal questions from developers.

“I wouldn’t want to, in haste, set a deadline that would preclude people from sending proposals,” Mr. Fry said, adding the commission has received as many as 70 questions on the site from potential bidders.

He said the large number of questions suggests a growing interest among developers, which he views as a “very positive sign.” Maryland legalized slots in a 2008 referendum, and state officials initially sought to approve slots parlors at five locations. However, they have struggled to find companies willing to build at two of the sites — Baltimore and Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Allegany County.

The state has two active casinos in Cecil and Worcester counties, with another set to open next year in Anne Arundel County.

The slots commission requested proposals last year for the Baltimore site and received only one bid, from Baltimore City Entertainment Group. The commission rejected the bid as inadequate, prompting a lawsuit from BCEG that remains tied up in appeals.

The group also filed a discrimination lawsuit this month alleging that the state’s criteria for bidders unfairly favor women- and minority-owned companies.

The slots commission has twice requested proposals at Rocky Gap, but in both cases failed to draw a single competitive bid due largely to the state-owned resort’s remote location. A slots developer at the site would be required to buy the lodge.

The General Assembly hoped to entice bids this year by passing legislation decreasing the state’s share of potential slots revenue at the site from 67 percent to 50 percent.

Potential Rocky Gap bidders have until Sept. 23 to submit proposals.

“My impression is that we have some serious interest there from a number of groups,” said Robert Howells, the state lottery’s procurement director. “I am hopeful and optimistic that we will see some proposals.” Some observers have worried Maryland could be late arriving to the slots game and that further delays will only hurt revenues. Neighboring states West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania have already expanded to table games such as poker and blackjack.

Maryland’s two existing slots parlors generated $103 million in revenue in their first fiscal year, ending June 30. State officials have said the revenues are in line with projections, but that they are eager to open additional facilities.

“It certainly hasn’t moved at the pace we hoped it would move,” Mr. Fry said. “But if you take a look around the country, these types of delays are not an anomaly.” Despite past failures, Mr. Fry said he expects the latest rounds of bidding on Baltimore and Rocky Gap to draw serious candidates. He said the commission hopes to choose both winning developers by the end of the year.

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