- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Anne Arundel County Council members Monday withdrew a bill that would allow a casino to be built near a popular shopping mall and have drafted a new bill governing the proposal.

The move marked the third time since March that the council delayed voting on the contentious measure, which would tweak zoning laws to allow a slots parlor near the Arundel Mills Mall.

The proposal has drawn a mixed reaction from residents, who say the gambling hall is too close to the family friendly shopping mall.

Support among council members has also been mixed, with three backing the bill, two against it, and two undecided.

The bill introduced Monday incorporates suggestions from one of the undecided council members, who recommended requiring a 24-hour security service and forbidding adult bookstores, movie theaters and pawn shops within 1,000 feet of the casino.

Council member Daryl D. Jones, a Democrat who represents the area closest to the mall, said that although he would rather not see a casino at Arundel Mills, it would be irresponsible of the council not to create protections for residents living nearby if the bill is passed.

“It’s a two-pronged approach. If you’re a person who lives near the mall, you don’t want to see a casino there. But if the legislation is passed, then we should be taking steps to enact protections,” said Mr. Jones, who did not say whether he will vote for the new bill.

The original legislation was scheduled to expire on June 6, but the new bill gives council members until August to gather public input, amend the proposal and vote.

Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, a Republican, said that even though the bill now has “stronger protections,” it remains unclear whether it will pass.

“It’s an issue that’s still undecided in the minds of a couple of key council members, and this could still go either way,” he said.

A recent poll by the Anne Arundel Community College’s Center for the Study of Local Issues showed that only 16 percent of county residents supported the idea of slots at Arundel Mills, while 44 percent said they would rather have the slots at another location, such as Laurel Park racetrack.

Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., proposed the 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex that would include upscale restaurants, a live entertainment venue and a casino with 4,750 slot machines.

The casino is the largest of four gaming facilities approved by a state commission in February.

The Arundel Mills project represents the bulk of the 6,500 slot machines that have been requested statewide since February.

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

The council has scheduled a public hearing on the new bill for May 26.

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