Wednesday, January 27, 2010

AS PETITION DRIVE NEARS ITS GOAL, MARYLAND SLOTS FIGHT GETS UGLIER: January 27, 2010 News Report

Protesters disrupt slots petition drive
Maryland City event to block casino draws supporters of Arundel Mills plan

By ALLISON BOURG, Staff Writer: The Maryland Gazette and Capital Gazette Communications, Inc
Published 01/27/10

The fight over slots at Arundel Mills turned ugly Sunday, with proponents of the casino disrupting a petition drive aimed at forcing the issue to a local referendum, witnesses of the confrontation said.

Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association, said about a dozen people arrived at the Maryland City Volunteer Fire Department where members of the citizens group Stop Slots were collecting signatures.

"They were looking for a fight, and that's all they were there for," he said yesterday.

Smallwood said one woman, who identified herself as an Eastern Shore horse breeder who supports slots at Arundel Mills, threatened to leave a dead horse's head in one volunteer's bed.

A protester said he was a student at Anne Arundel Community College and told slots opponents his tuition is increasing and revenue from slots might help keep costs down.

"I don't know what they think ... It's like they think this is going to make the grass greener," Smallwood said.

Though they were scheduled to be at the fire hall for three hours, the Stop Slots group left after an hour because of the disruption.

Robert Anicelli, president of Stop Slots, said in a statement released yesterday that some signature collectors have reported "po-tential interference" from slots proponents.

We are near our goal of reaching the required number of signatures for placing the mall casino zoning ordinance on the November ballot," Annicelli said. "However, in recent days we have seen an increase in organized activities, which can only be described as attempts to interfere with a successful petition drive."

Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. is planning to build the casino with 4,750 slot machines at the mall. The County Council approved zoning for the casino, called Maryland Live! in December after nine months of debate.

Stop Slots has until Feb. 5 to collect 9,500 signatures, the first hurdle in getting bringing the zoning law to a referendum on the November ballot. Joe Torre, director of the county Board of Elections, said he hasn't heard any complaints from petitioners. He said he has heard reports that some people are circulating pro-slots petitions.

"I think people do that to confuse other people," Torre said. "But I haven't seen any of that."

Smallwood couldn't identify any Cordish representatives who were at the drive.

Cordish managing partner Joe Weinberg said any reports that Cordish employees were at the fire hall are "completely false."

"My understanding was the meeting was sparsely attended and the only person who raised their voice was a horse industry representative who believes the owners of Laurel are driving the industry further into distress via funding of the petition effort," Weinberg wrote in an e-mail.

Zed Smith, vice president of development for Cordish, talked about the petition drive yesterday at a meeting of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce in Gambrills.

He didn't mince words when speaking about the petition drive, and what it could mean if opponents gather enough signatures.

"We're hoping for cold weather, freezing temperatures, sleet ... anything that could make people not want to open their doors and sign a petition," Smith said with a chuckle.

It's been difficult, he said.

"But we believe in a good fight," Smith said. "The petition drive currently underway ... could be a huge delay for the project. And that's a big challenge."

Last week, Cordish submitted its site plans to the county approval, starting the review process it hopes will allow it to start construction later this year and open in 2011.

Smith criticized the Maryland Jockey Club for its part in the petition drive, saying he thought its representatives were being unfair. The company has hired a professional campaign organizer to assist in the drive.

The future of Laurel Park is still up in the air. The company that owns the track, Magna Entertainment Corp., is in bankruptcy proceedings and has put the track up for auction.

Cordish is one of the bidders for the track, but officials have said they have no intention of moving the casino from Arundel Mills to Laurel Park.

County and state officials say the casino could generate up to $400 million in revenue per year for the county, the state's Education Trust Fund and the horse racing industry.

"We still think Arundel Mills is the ideal site," Smith said. "It will be the most productive in the state of Maryland."

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Stop Slots volunteers are collecting signatures at the Villages of Dorchester community center, 7551 Dorchester Blvd., Hanover, from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

Copyright © 2010 The Maryland Gazette and Capital Gazette Communications, Inc
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6 comments:

Christopher said...

I was there. Smallwood is completely misrepresenting the event.

Here's what happened. A meeting notice was published online and in a variety of printed publications stating that there would be a public discussion of Laurel Park impact fees. It mentioned that elected officials and reporters might be in attendance.

About 12 people showed up to discuss the issue, only to be informed that those who'd scheduled the meeting (A Ms. Mignon if my memory serves me) would not be attending. Mr. Smallwood stated that he was attending in her stead.
In fact, it appears that the meeting was a blatant bait-and-switch as Mr. Smallwood had no intention of discussing the issue and instead presented a stack of petitions to those in attendance, none of whom seemed inclined to sign.

Portraying the attendees as rabble-rousers or instigators is blatantly false and reprehensible. All in attendance seemed logical, well reasoned and open to a discussion of the issue. In fact, it was Mr. Smallwood who seemed to have ZERO grasp of how impact fees would affect Laurel, his fire department and the surrounding community. His obvious bias and disdain for those in attendance was on display.

I left the meeting thinking the meeting was uneventful and generally cordial, but I guess I now know how things work in Maryland City/Laurel.

Anonymous said...

This is a disgrace. If one factors in the reckless disreregard the MD State House has given consideration to the open-space horse owning advocates, jobs and revenue potential of helping the race industry it becomes plainly tragic. Thank Stronach and his ego with a ton of assistance of same...troll.

The mall slots situation is nothing more than a shove back up the butt to the race slots proponents by holier than thou politicians that got spanked by the initial slots referendum.

Good job MD...I truly hope that you loose the Preakness and all the tracks. With a little luck you'll get teetering on bankruptcy development companies promising the moon, half built and occupied structures and the counties and state left holding the bag.

Good job Annapolis!

D. Masters
formerly of Bowie

Jane said...

This issue has nothing to do with the curent " owners,managment" of Laurel. As a horsewomen I have worked at Laurel. If they Don't get the slots at Laurel the game is over. This will put many good people out of work> Many of the horsemen at Laurel are not in the elite catagory of trainers. They work 12 hour days for something they believe in. These people are the backbone of the industry,they need all the help they can get. Slots are an end to that means. To lose the Preakness would be criminal.I ask you to take an open minded look at this issue. Then draw your conclusions.

msschulenburg said...

Mr. Smallwood speaks only for himself and a few other eccentric people who think slots would be good for Laurel. He does not speak for the residents of Maryland City or any other neighborhood and neither does Ms. Mignon. As far as Mr. Anicelli and the other Dorchester residents waging the petition drive, they are looking out strictly for themselves, not the racetrack workers, and certainly not other residents of Anne Arundel County. Let's set the record straight.

Sasscer Hill said...

Regarding Christopher's comment, I searched on line and could find no record of a meeting to discuss Laurel Park impact fees other than one that took place in the fall of 2009.

Mr. Anicelli's group, however, has made a number of online notifications about signature collecting to obtain a referendum to change the Anne Arundel County zoning allowing slots at Arundel Mills.

Sasscer Hill said...

To msschulenburg. Thank you for leaving a comment. You are, of course, right. Mr. Anicelli's group and the Dorchester's residents, are looking out for themselves. Who else would do it for them?

The other group involved in the petition drive is the Maryland Jockey Club, and a great number of people who have a passion for, and involvement in, Maryland racing. Remember that the slots "operator" gets 33% of the take. Racing folks who worked hard to get slots into Maryland, don't want to see a group (that did nothing to help the slots legislation early on) step in at the last minute and take the money.

Sadly, as always, it's all about money.