Sunday, February 14, 2010


The following blog entry is taken from Hill's article at

On February, 4, 2010, the coalition of petitioners that included the Maryland Jockey Club and the local activist group, "Stop Slots at Arundel Mills," surprised skeptics by submitting over 23,000 signatures to the Anne Arundel Board of Elections, exceeding the 18,790 needed to override the County Council’s approval of the Cordish slots zoning request (known as Bill 82-09), instead putting the request before the voters.

“Without question, there is overwhelming opposition by Anne Arundel County citizens to placing a casino at Arundel Mills Mall,” claimed Rob Annicelli, president of the citizens group Stop Slots at Arundel Mills. “The mall is not the right location for a slots casino and is not in the best interests of the citizens of Anne Arundel County.”

Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said, “We are confident, that if given the choice, the people of Anne Arundel County will choose a more appropriate location for 4,750 slot machines that will benefit our county, our state and the thousands of jobs in the horse racing industry.” 

However, according to a February 5 Baltimore Sun article, Cordish managing partner Joseph Weinberg has charged that there are “massive irregularities” in the petition drive.  “Upon review, we are confident the referendum will be struck down as both legally invalid and lacking in the requisite valid signatures.”

When I called the Anne Arundel County Elections Board on the afternoon of the deadline for the submission of signatures, five hours into the biggest Maryland snowstorm in decades, I was astonished when David Garreis, Deputy Director of the elections board, answered the phone himself on the second ring. He said he’d grabbed the phone because his staff was too busy processing the “Stop Slots at Arundel Mills” petition forms.
Apparently, the democratic process is still working in Maryland.

Readers interested in the list of county codes regarding petitions – the difficulties already faced and that lie ahead, read here:$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amleg.


Slots are “not dead” in Maryland. There is a written state law naming Anne Arundel County as a location for slots gambling. The Anne Arundel County Council voted to accept both bills: Bill 81-09 and 82-09. The specific location written into Bill 81-09 allows slots gambling only at Laurel Park. The second bill, 82-09 allows gambling at either the Arundel Mills location or at Laurel Park.

Council Executive John R. Leopold, however, vetoed 81-09, which left 82-09 in place – the bill allowing slots at either of the two locations. Currently, only the Arundel Mills site has the green light from the Video Lottery Commission (i.e., the “Slots Commission”).

The De Fancis family has aggressively campaigned that Laurel Park spent from 2003 to 2009 successfully securing Federal, State, County and Local permitting and regulatory approvals, and that the track is poised to begin immediate construction of a Video Lottery Terminal gaming facility, if they could get zoning approval from the Anne Arundel County Council. 

The MJC would still need to submit a bid to the Video Lottery Commission, a process that MJC’s parent company, Magna Entertainment was denied last spring when they produced the necessary funds in escrow -- a customary and sensible business practice that the MD slots commission chose to deny.


In an attempt to settle this issue I contacted Anne Arundel County Council Member Catherine Vitalem, and asked if there is any fast track legal procedure that could take place to push the zoning through more quickly, if, for example, Magna Entertainment were to ask for slots zoning at Laurel Park? Is it possible for the Council to avoid a lengthy application process?

The short answer is "no."

According to Vitale , when County Executive John R. Leopold vetoed bill 81-09, the bill for slots at Laurel only, the bill expired and is considered “dead.” If the current petition for “Stop Slots at Arundel Mills” is successful, then the second bill, 82-09 will be “stayed” and remain in that status until the November 2010 elections. The voters will decide whether to vote for, or against bill 82-09, the bill that allows slots at either Laurel or Anne Arundel Mills.

Since the Cordish Companies were granted a slots license – and by law only one license is allowed in Anne Arundel County – if the bill is voted down, then this issue will have to come up before the new council that will take office in December of 2010.

However, the MJC or whoever will own the Maryland tracks can seek zoning after the 2010 elections. The decision will rest with the new county council which will take office immediately after the November elections are finalized.

Vitale explained that while the Council cannot “fast track” slots zoning before the 2010 elections, they are still very interested in receiving a share of revenue from slots.  Vitale seemed certain the Council will remain open to slots zoning somewhere in the County.
Since there is no “quick fix,” the process that must be followed, starting with the petitions,  is outlined below.

THE ZONING PROCESS (You may skip this section; I probably would.)

* These petitions must be duly processed and  certified by the board of elections.  If they are, this zoning ordinance will be placed on the 2010 ballot and will allow Anne Arundel County citizens to vote on whether or not to permit the state’s largest slots casino at the Arundel Mills Mall.
* If the County Council’s decision to place the slots at Arundel Mills is overturned by the voters in November, then whoever owns Laurel Park must file an application for a zoning change with the Anne Arundel County Office of  Planning and Zoning if they wish to secure slots zoning.

* Once the application is filed,  the Office of Planning and Zoning will submit a list of applications to the Administrative Hearing Officer to schedule hearings. 

* Not more than 30 days after receipt of the applications list, the Administrative Hearing Officer will schedule a hearing and notify the applicant. 

* The Administrative Hearing Officer will conduct a public hearing on the application. The hearing may be continued from time to time, with the time and place of the next hearing date announced publicly.

* The applicant, the County, and any other person deemed qualified by the Administrative   Hearing Officer may introduce evidence and testify. 
* The Administrative Hearing Officer will grant or deny an application in accordance with   law. The Administrative Hearing Officer's decision will be based on the evidence   presented at the hearing and observations made during any site visit.

It seems obvious the Laurel Park track owner will hire a zoning attorney to guide them through this morass.  

If you are a glutton for punishment, you may read the entire list of codes regarding Anne Arundel County zoning applications here:$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:annearund


Jeffrey Seder of the Blow Horn Equity group still plans to bid on the race tracks whether or not the slots finally go to Laurel, and he is now expecting a bidding frenzy at the auction (currently scheduled for February 23).

“We could get slots up and running at a temporary facility as fast at Laurel Racetrack as Cordish Co. can at the Mall. And, there is a HUGE difference to Maryland racing whether the 1/3 of all the slots take goes to the slots operator, who is an enormous corporate real estate development company in Florida, and all over the country, etc. or to the local MARYLAND racetracks.”

While Weinberg has ominously warned that a successful petition will cause Maryland to slide  down the slippery slope of not having slots at all, Seder vehemently disagrees.

 “The slots approval will not go away — the voters have already spoken decisively and the state desperately needs the money.”

Seder noted that Penn National lost in its bid for gaming in New York and will probably take those funds and put them toward a Laurel bid. He indicated there are a number of bidders that are deeply funded, and the bidding could get rough.

This writer fears track ownership by a company that doesn’t have the horse racing industry at heart would only strengthen the grasping hands of Maryland politicians who will siphon the income away from the Maryland Horse Racing Industry.  Indeed, Delegate Frank Turner of Howard County had already filed House Bill 40 that would take 50% of the money that was “guaranteed to the purse fund” and hand it over to the Maryland Lottery Commission.

But after contacting Delegate Turner about this bill, he stated in an email to me on February 4 that he will “either withdraw the bill or have a hearing and ask the Chairman not to bring the bill to a vote.”  He said, “Since the bill was first drafted, Anne Arundel County has taken an inordinate amount of time to make a decision on the slots at Arundel Mills. Baltimore City’s bid has been cancelled, and will have to be rebid.  The need for any additional money for state of the art machines is not needed in the 2011 budget.”

But it may be only a matter of time before another such bill is raised.

Horsemen are anxiously awaiting the auction, hopeful that the new owner will have both deep pockets and an abiding love of the sport. Seder is playing on those desires and fears, aggressively marketing Blow Horn Equity as “the” horsemen’s choice, based on experience, love of the sport and plenty of capital, while simultaneously pointing out that some companies, such as Cordish and Penn National, have other motives for owning the tracks, such as gaming or land acquisition.

Many in the horse industry fear that track ownership by a company that doesn’t have the horse racing industry at heart will only strengthen the hands of Maryland politicians intent on siphoning the income away from the Maryland horse industry.

In Karin De Francis’ passionate speech at the Maryland Horse Council Meeting January 21, many saw in her the spirit of her father, Frank De Francis, who put his whole heart and soul into Maryland racing, leading it to unprecedented heights in the 1980s. That legacy is firing the De Francis siblings to promise unequivocally that no other track bidder will try as hard or care as much about making Maryland racing successful as will they.


While we wait to see what happens between the track auction – now rescheduled for February 23 -- and further machinations of the Anne Arundel County Council, I still see a light in this story.

How American for two normally opposed groups to form an alliance to achieve a goal that will benefit both parties.  Rob Annicelli and his activists don’t want slots in their neighborhood.  They don’t want the additional traffic, or the strain on fire and police departments.  They did everything good citizens can do to protest the Arundel Mills slots location, and were ignored by their County Council.
Many in Maryland racing were appalled at the idea of the slots going to a shopping mall instead of at the customary, expected location of the racetracks. It just makes sense, many thought, to have the slots at the racetracks.  

The definition of Democracy is “government by the people.” It was good to see Maryland citizens insist on using their legitimate right in a government process!

It will be interesting to see how the next chapter unfolds.  I pray, that whatever is best for Maryland racing, is the winner in the end!

Respectfully submitted, Sasscer Hill     


Steve Zorn said...

Just a small footnote from New York. The Aqueduct slots deal is by no means done; every law enforcement agency in the state seems to be looking at it, and there's no assurance that the "winner," the Aqueduct Entertainment Group -- will be able to come up with the $300 million down payment by March 31. The betting in Albany is 10-1 that we'll be waiting until after the election for a final decision, just like Maryland.

Also, I'm not as charitably inclined as you are to think that Stronach's failure to come up with the required slot license application deposit was just a technicality that should have been overlooked. As we now know, he didn't have the money, and his purported escrow arrangements were highly questionable, at least from the point of view of his minority shareholders. Frank blew it. Good riddance, but now we're left with the fallout.

Sasscer Hill said...

Yes, Steve, people tell me I tend to be too forgiving.

But whatever the reasons, these are terrible circumstances for Maryland, New York, and Kentucky.