- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland received bids for fewer slot machines than state officials had hoped for Monday, as developers wheeled boxes containing details of the six proposals for five potential licenses into a state government building.

It turns out the 15,000 machines lawmakers had provided for in a constitutional amendment were too many, at least for now.

The proposals seek a total of 10,550 machines at first, with a total of 13,000 in a second phase, said Donald Fry, who is the chairman of a state commission running the licensing process.

While state officials hoping for new gambling revenue breathed a sigh of relief that all five possible venues received bids, an air of disappointment was obvious. That’s because only one site received dueling bids in what was hoped to be a competitive bidding process.

Fry declined to mention details about who submitted bids until further review.

House Speaker Michael Busch said he considered the bids a “pretty good start,” but he said he had been hoping for a stronger turnout from developers.

“I thought that there would be more bidders, but the fact of the matter is that the economy is tough, particularly to get money for the capital improvements that they’re going to need for the facilities,” Busch, D-Anne Arundel, told reporters.

The five sites include Anne Arundel, Cecil, Worcester and Allegany counties and Baltimore city.

The Baltimore-based Cordish Co. made a bid for the Anne Arundel site, seeking to put 4,750 slot machines at Arundel Mills Mall. The Maryland Jockey Club had long ago announced intentions to put slot machines at Laurel Park, a horse racing track in the county. The club did not immediately comment Monday.

James J. Stakem, president of the Allegany County Commissioners, said he was pleased that the western Maryland venue in Allegany County received at least one bid, given its relatively small size. Stakem said he didn’t know who the bidder was.

The commission could seek more bids at another time to reach the statutory limit, but Fry said it was way too soon to tell when that could happen.

Developers had a 2 p.m. deadline to bring bids to Annapolis. As the deadline neared, representatives from several developers could be seen wheeling in boxes of paper containing the proposals into the Department of Legislative Services building, which is next to the State House. Some carried boxes inside.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment in November to legalize slot machine gambling, a vote that ended a long battle in Annapolis that stymied lawmakers for years.

Slots parlors are expected to begin operating in 2011, with the two horse racing tracks in Anne Arundel and Worcester counties expected to begin first, because the infrastructure already exists at the facilities. By 2012, Maryland could receive more than $600 million in revenues from all five sites, according to estimates by state fiscal analysts.

Bidders are required to pay $3 million for every 500 machines they request. That adds up to about $63 million for Maryland’s fiscal year 2010 budget, instead of the $90 million total that bids on 15,000 machines would have brought.

The state’s Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, which includes seven members, is overseeing the licensing process. The commission may change the allocation of slot machines, if market conditions warrant adjustments, but no more than 4,750 machines can be placed at a single location.

The commission is now set to review the proposals, a process that could take between six to eight months. That means early fall of 2009 is the earliest likely time a license could be awarded. A license will be good for 15 years, with an option to renew for 10 years.

The Maryland Lottery Commission, which is tasked with overseeing slot machine operations, will hold a concurrent review to examine the financial backgrounds and conduct criminal background checks on potential operators who have applied.

The proposals submitted Monday contained financial details from the developers. They also were asked to include as much information as they can about the facility they are proposing to build. However, the location commission has set April 15 as a second date for submitting more detailed information and supporting documentation.

Associated Press Writer David Dishneau contributed to this report from Hagerstown.

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