- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Anne Arundel County lawmakers dodged voting on a long-delayed zoning bill that would allow the largest casino in Maryland to be built next door to a popular shopping mall for the fourth straight time Monday night.

A decision will be weeks away on the contentious bill, which would tweak county zoning laws in order to allow a gaming facility with nearly 5,000 slot machines to be built near Arundel Mills Mall. The project would be the largest of four gaming facilities approved by a state commission in February, meaning the future of the facility could determine the future of the state’s nascent gambling industry.

The County Council was to vote on the proposal Monday night, but members imposed further changes to the bill, including a provision to create a parking space for every two gaming positions at the proposed casino.

And because county law requires that any changes be vetted at a public hearing, a vote on the bill has been delayed until July 6.

Of the seven members on the council, three have voiced support for the plan, two are against and two are undecided.

“It puts the council in the most awkward of situations, and none of the members want to be in that position of having the state and their own constituents with divergent interests crashing down on them,” said Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel County Community College.

The changes are being considered after the council decided to replace the original slots legislation on May 18 with a substitute bill, which included many provisions proposed by Council member Daryl D. Jones, a Democrat who represents the area closest to the mall. Some of the changes favored by Mr. Jones include a 1,000-foot buffer zone among the casino and adult book stores, movie theatres and pawn shops.

The Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. wants to build a 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex near the Hanover mall. The project would include upscale restaurants, a live entertainment venue and a casino with 4,750 slot machines.

When statewide slots legislation was drafted in 2007, at least 40 percent of the $1.3 billion in revenue that slot machines were estimated to attract was projected to come from the Arundel Mills site.

The proposal has drawn the wrath of several hundred nearby residents, who feel that the gambling hall is too close to the family friendly shopping mall. Some opponents have publicly said they would not vote for council members who support the proposal.

“Those who vote for this are committing political suicide. These amendments do nothing to help protect us, and we are not stupid,” said Joseline Castanos, a resident of Dorchester and a member of Stop Slots at Arundel Mills.

Mr. Jones, one of the two undecided members on the council, said he would rather see the question of the Arundel Mills site delayed until the fall, when a state commission is scheduled to decide whether Cordish should receive a license to build the gaming facility.

“That’s what bothers me the most, that we are deciding in June or July what we should be deciding in October or November,” Mr. Jones said.

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