Friday, January 29, 2010

MARYLAND SLOTS BATTLE: Clearing up Confusion about the Petition Drive

The Stop Slots at Arundel Mills activists indicated today they are very optimistic that they will have the 9,500 petition signatures required by a February 5 deadline.  If this is the case, they will receive an extension to collect all 19,000 signatures required by law  to send Bill 82-09 to referendum in the 2010 ballot. The final deadline for all signatures is 30 days after February 5, or Monday March 7, 2010.

When I contacted Rob Annicelli from the Stop Slots at Arundel Mills group, he said,
“If we get 19,000 signatures, AA Co. residents will be able to vote on the zoning legislation passed by the county.  This legislation would result in Cordish having the only slots license in Anne Arundel County, excluding Laurel Park. If this bill is placed on the ballot and voted down, then the AA County Council will have to either allow slots zoning for Laurel or not at all.”

Having been involved in the struggle to bring slots to Maryland Horse Racing for many years, there is only one thing I am sure of.  The legislators want that slots money.  After rejecting it for years, they are now talking about the addition of table games.  Table games?  Is there any wonder Cordish Companies is anxious to nail down the gaming rights?

Maryland State Senate President Mike Miller has indicated he would like a slots license for Prince Georges County.
For more on this see:

The Anne Arundel County Council will not kill the golden goose handed to them by law.
 Maryland law states that the slots location will be within two miles of Route 295.  Laurel Park Race Course is, of course, within two miles of 295.  But so is Arundel Mills, which is why the AA County Council was able to put the slots at the Mills.  They can still put them at Laurel where there is far less resistance.

See the original referendum for slots here:

Though some in the Laurel area do not want slots, there are far more horse and track-affiliated people that live and work in the area that are in favor of, and hoping for, slots at the track. By comparison, it is hard to find anyone who wants the slots at Arundel Mills.

Sasscer Hill

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


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."


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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Sunday, January 24, 2010


January 24, 2010

A shame no one from Magna Entertainment was on hand at the January 21 Maryland Horse Council meeting (for information on that meeting, see post that follows)  to present their plans for Maryland Racing. As I see it, Magna's intention is to do exactly what Coridsh proposes to do -- only at Laurel Racetrack. 

Others present at the MHC meeting were quick to point the accusing finger at Magna, making statements like "Magna screwed up."  But consider Jim Freer's article that appeared in the "Blood Horse" of January 2.

Freer reported that Magna has changed it's previously frustrating three-year-old stakes schedule back to one that appeals to horsemen.  The Holy Bull, won yesterday by the Unbridled's Song colt, Winslow Homer, was shortened to one mile.  The Fountain of Youth will be run at a mile and 1/8 on February 20, and the Florida Derby -- also at a mile and 1/8 -- will run on March 20, six weeks before the Kentucky Derby as opposed to the five-weeks-before-Derby schedule of recent years.

Magna's shopping and restaurant complex is on schedule, with some stores and restaurants already open for business. The complex will feature a hotel, living and office space, as well. 

But most importantly, Freer reports that according to the Florida Division of Pari-Muteul Wagering, Gulfstream's total slots income rose 15% from the five-month period July-November 2009, over that same period in 2008.  This, at a time when slots play fell 6.7% at nearby Greyhound track Madi Gras Racetrack and Gaming, and 8.9% at the Isle Casino and Racing at Pompano Park harness track.  Both  of the  latter two sites have more machines and more total play than Gulfstream Park.

Maybe Frank Stronach and Magna just rode the wave too far, bought too many tracks, overextended, and got caught --like many other sharp businesses -- by an economic downturn.  Maybe Magna isn't a screw up.  Maybe Magna might still be a best hope.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


By staff writer Sean R. Sedam

The move denies Laurel Park's new owner of revenue that could be invested in the ailing track, which is for sale as part of a bankruptcy auction slated for Jan. 8, said one of the bidders for the track.

Slots "could've made it easier and faster to make [Laurel Park] into something quite wonderful," said Jeffrey A. Seder, the managing director of Blow Horn Equity LLC, one of six bidders for the Maryland assets of Magna Entertainment Corp., a Canadian company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.

Besides Laurel Park, the assets include Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore — including its valuable Preakness Stakes, the second leg of racing's Triple Crown — and the Bowie Training Center.

Blow Horn's bid is backed by a private equity hedge fund with "a couple of very wealthy individuals" as investors, said Seder, who declined to name the investors, citing confidentiality.

The group would upgrade the tracks' facilities and technology to improve the organization of the racing and the betting, Seder said.

"We think we can make a profit," he added.

A month before filing for bankruptcy, Magna applied for a slots license for Laurel Park, but the slots commission rejected the bid after Magna failed to front the $28.5 million license fee.

Without slots at Laurel, a buyer won't be able to invest as much in upgrading the track, "but it won't be impossible" to make the venue profitable, Seder said.

The zoning approval was good news for another bidder for Magna's assets, Baltimore developer David Cordish. Earlier this month, the state slots commission awarded The Cordish Cos. a license to build a 4,750-machine slots parlor at Arundel Mills.

On Tuesday, the Baltimore Business Journal quoted Cordish as saying that he would like to bid on a Baltimore city slots site. The slots commission threw out a bid for the site last week and plans to reopen the process in early 2010.

State law would have to be rewritten in order for Cordish to hold more than one license.

The company has insisted that Arundel Mills would be a more profitable slots site than Laurel Park. Cordish officials have said that revenue from the Arundel Mills slots would go toward reviving Laurel Park.

Part of the revival efforts stem from legislation implementing the slots program. The law calls for up to $100 million annually to go toward horse racing purses.  For eight years, another portion of the revenue, up to $40 million annually, will go into a racetrack renewal fund that will distribute matching grants to Maryland tracks, with 80 percent going to Pimlico, Laurel Park and the track at the Timonium Fairgrounds used during the state fair.

"Our intention is to consolidate gaming revenues from Arundel Mills and other venues with the tracks, and to cause a renaissance in Maryland's horse racing future which, unfortunately, has fallen into decline under previous management," Jon Cordish, vice president of The Cordish Cos., said in a statement.

It is unclear how much the company would invest in Laurel Park above what is set aside for purses and the renewal fund under the law.

Laurel Park's current operator, the Maryland Jockey Club, struck a more pessimistic tone in a statement following Monday's Anne Arundel council vote.

Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas called it "a sad night for Maryland racing" that put the racing industry and 15,000 to 20,000 jobs "in peril."

Chuckas said the club, which is bidding on Magna's assets, will support a petition for a referendum asking Anne Arundel County voters whether slots should be allowed at the mall.

"We are going to continue to pursue all of our legal options and exhaust all means and measures to continue this fight," Chuckas said in the statement.

Seder said he too supports the referendum campaign, led by a group called Stop Slots at Arundel Mills, but stopped short of saying whether Blow Horn would contribute financially to the campaign.

"I don't know if it would be appropriate or not," said Seder, the founder and CEO of a Chester County, Pa., horse farm and EQB Inc, a thoroughbred ownership and consulting company of which Blow Horn is an affiliate.

Seder challenged Cordish's claim that revenue from slots near the mall would be pumped into track operations.

He called Cordish's argument that the Arundel Mills site would be the most profitable location "specious."

"It was not the intention of the legislation to siphon a third of the revenue to something that has nothing to do with slots," he said.

Indeed, as recently as last week Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who backed the state slots program that voters approved last year, said he would have preferred that all slots be located at racetracks.

An analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers presented to the slots commission found that when the Arundel Mills site is fully operational in 2016 it could generate $500.5 million per year, with each machine bringing in about $289 each day. At the time, commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said the numbers show Arundel Mills would be "a destination location," and approval of the site "is in the best interest of the state."

The uncertainty about the Anne Arundel slots site has put the bid for Magna's assets in limbo, said John B. Franzone, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission.

It's not a coincidence that the progress of the bankruptcy proceeding has coincided with deliberations on the slots license, he said.

Franzone estimated that Laurel Park is worth $60 million to $80 million without slots. With slots, however, the track could be worth $200 million to $500 million, he said.

"So you're talking about a gi-normous difference in equity," he said.

With the bankruptcy auction ahead and many questions remaining about how Maryland gets to 15,000 slot machines, Franzone said he believes the saga of racing and slots is far from over.

"It could be like Aqueduct," he said, referring to the historic but ailing Queens, N.Y., track that was approved for slots in October 2001. Since then, New York lawmakers and the governor have wrangled over who should operate the track.

Meanwhile, Aqueduct still doesn't have slots, Franzone said.

With great interest, I note Jeffrey A. Seder, the managing director of Blow Horn Equity, was familiar to me through his ownership in EQB Inc. the Thoroughbred consulting company that selected the 2009 Breeder's Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner, Informed Decision, for Augustin Stables.  Seder is a successful businessman and a true lover of horses and horse racing.  Could we get lucky?

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