- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Anne Arundel County Council is expected to hear from the community Thursday evening on a zoning proposal to put slot machines next to a popular shopping mall.

The vote, which could come as early as Monday, will be crucial in deciding the future of the state’s plan - approved in a referendum last year - to put 15,000 slot machines at five locations throughout the state.

Three of the county council’s seven members support the proposal, two oppose it and two are undecided.

Cathy Vitale, a Republican and one of the two undecided members, said she will spend more time listening Thursday evening than speaking.

“It’s really the first opportunity to hear from citizens, and the council has certainly been inundated with e-mails, both positive and negative. I encourage people to do that,” she said.

Officials said they expect the contentious issue to draw a large number of public witnesses to testify and that the vote could be delayed beyond Monday while the council considers the proposal.

The bill before the council concerns the eligibility of a 20-mile strip along Interstate 295, not only the approval of the mall site, Ms. Vitale said.

The slots initiative passed last year with 60 percent of the vote. State officials had expected slots to generate about $600 million in annual revenue by 2012, but implementation of the plan has sputtered.

The Arundel Mills mall bid is the largest the state has received, accounting for 4,750 of the 6,550 slot machines that have been proposed so far.

The mall site emerged as the leading contender for a slots venue after organizers of a bid to put the machines at the Laurel Park horse-racing track submitted a bid in February but failed to include a $28.5 million fee with the application.

Ms. Vitale said she expects a large turnout Thursday because it will be the first chance for the public to voice its views.

“I’m interested in knowing what other sites were considered as viable alternatives. Maybe we should have been looking elsewhere,” she said.

Daryl Jones, a Democrat who is the other undecided council member, said that his goal is to protect the community and its integrity.

“Should the legislation pass, I will be looking to be certain that we have enough safeguards in place,” he said, noting traffic and infrastructure issues, as well as potential decisions to bring other businesses to the area around the gambling hall.

Robert Marsili, who lives near the mall, expressed his support for the slot machines.

“If we don’t do it, they’re going to raise our taxes,” he said.

The mall was there when Mr. Marsili moved to the area with his family in 2004, but recently, he said, business seems less than stellar.

“Some of the malls in the area are half closed up, half shut down,” he said, “If Anne Arundel County is able to receive $30 million in revenue without taxing me further, it’s something I support.”

Barb Knickelbein, who lives in Glen Burnie about eight miles from the mall, said she opposes the proposal because it would lower the quality of life in the family-friendly community.

“I am mostly worried about the crime. We have enough petty crime already,” she said.

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