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Casino developer picked for Western Maryland resort

First-year profits of $40.2M projected

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — After three years of lackluster bids and lukewarm interest from developers, a company has been chosen to build a slots casino at a debt-ridden state-owned resort in Western Maryland.

State officials granted a license Thursday for a $54.6-million, 50,000-square-foot slots parlor at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Allegany County.

The developers — Evitts Resort LLC and Lakes Maryland Development LLC — would initially install 850 slot machines and potentially expand to 1,000 after one year of operation.

The facility is slated to open in early to mid-2014.

The state has looked three years to find a developer for Rocky Gap, which was one of five sites designated for slots casinos in a 2008 referendum. Just two of those sites have opened, and Rocky Gap is the fourth to designate a developer.

The remote resort is owned by the state. It has struggled since opening in 1998 and lost more than $3 million annually in recent years.

State officials hope a casino will revive the destination while bolstering state and local revenues.

"I think that the addition of slots at the facility will add a lot of destination travel to the facility," said Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state's Video Lottery Facility Location Commission. "And I think we have a private-sector owner who is making a substantial investment in the facility and certainly wants to see it prosper."

Under the agreement, the developers will lease land from the state and build a facility while making improvements to the existing lodge and resort.

Because the land is owned by the state, the Board of Public Works still must approve the purchase and lease agreements and is expected to do so in June.

Sen. George C. Edwards, Garrett Republican, whose district includes Rocky Gap, said the casino is expected to bring 240 jobs to the area and could stimulate nearby businesses.

It is projected to generate $40.2 million in its first year, half of which would go to the developer, with the rest going to the state — with42 percent used for education and nearly 3 percent passed down to local governments.

"It's about time," Mr. Edwards said. "I think it's going to be a big shot in the arm for the economy."

The state hopes the casino will not only enliven the resort but also revive the state's sluggish slots industry, which has been slow to get off the ground since the five sites were approved.

Only casinos in Cecil and Worcester counties have opened, with a Baltimore site yet to find a developer and an Anne Arundel casino set to open in June.

Mr. Fry said officials hope to award a license for the Baltimore site by the end of June.

Along with speeding up slots implementation, many officials are calling for legalization of table games to help Maryland's gambling industry catch up with other states.

The General Assembly could use a potential August special session to consider legalizing table games and a new casino in Prince George's County.

Some stakeholders near other casino sites worry that expansion could oversaturate the state's gambling market, but Mr. Edwards said Rocky Gap would benefit greatly from table games and would be shielded from competition by its remote location.

"We think table games would definitely help at Rocky Gap," said Tim Cope, president of Lakes Entertainment Inc., parent company of Lakes Maryland Development LLC. "With a destination resort and the hotel rooms, it's a natural fit for a table-games environment."

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