Clarifying the Confusion Surrounding “Question A”
Many voters are asking me to explain Question A. Therefore, in an attempt to provide the history of the current slots issue in Maryland and Anne Arundel County and clarify information about the Referendum Question known as “Question A,” I have provided this document.
Historically, slots have always been a controversial issue in Anne Arundel County and the controversy continues today. I would like to share just a little background about my involvement in this issue. When I first ran for State Delegate four years ago, I talked to literally thousands of voters about “slots in Maryland.” If given the opportunity to vote for slots, the overwhelming majority asked me to support slots. When I was a “freshman” delegate, Governor O’Malley called a Special Session and during the 18-day session, he put forth a slots proposal.
The proposed slots locations described in the House Bill 4 and Ballot Question 2 are listed below:
(3)EXCEPT AS PROVIDED IN SUBSECTION (E) OF THIS SECTION, A VIDEO LOTTERY OPERATION LICENSE ONLY MAY BE AWARDED FOR A VIDEO LOTTERY FACILITY IN THE FOLLOWING LOCATIONS:
(I) ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, WITHIN 2 MILES OF MD ROUTE 295;
(II) CECIL COUNTY, WITHIN 2 MILES OF INTERSTATE 95;
(III) WORCESTER COUNTY, WITHIN 1 MILE OF THE INTERSECTION OF ROUTE 50 AND ROUTE 589;
(IV) ON STATE PROPERTY ASSOCIATED WITH THE ROCKY GAP LODGE AND GOLF RESORT LOCATED WITHIN ROCKY GAP STATE PARK IN ALLEGANY COUNTY; OR
(V) BALTIMORE CITY, IN A NONRESIDENTIAL AREA WITHIN ONE–HALF MILE OF INTERSTATE 95 AND MD ROUTE 295, AND NOT ADJACENT TO OR WITHIN ONE–QUARTER MILE OF RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY.
(V) BALTIMORE CITY, IF THE VIDEO LOTTERY FACILITY IS:
A. IN A NONRESIDENTIAL AREA;
B. WITHIN ONE–HALF MILE OF INTERSTATE 95;
C. WITHIN ONE–HALF MILE OFMD ROUTE 295; AND
D. ON PROPERTY THAT IS OWNED BY BALTIMORE CITY ON THE DATE ON WHICH THE APPLICATION FOR A VIDEO LOTTERY OPERATION LICENSE IS SUBMITTED; AND
2. NOT ADJACENT TO OR WITHIN ONE–QUARTER MILE OF PROPERTY THAT IS:
A. ZONED FOR RESIDENTIAL USE; AND
B. USED FOR A RESIDENTIAL DWELLING ON THE DATE THE APPLICATION FOR A VIDEO LOTTERY OPERATION LICENSE IS SUBMITTED.
(4) EXCEPT AS PROVIDED IN SUBSECTION (E) OF THIS SECTION, THE STATE MAY NOT AWARD MORE THAN ONE VIDEO LOTTERY OPERATION LICENSE IN A SINGLE COUNTY OR BALTIMORE CITY.
(5) A VIDEO LOTTERY FACILITY SHALL COMPLY WITH ALL APPLICABLE PLANNING AND ZONING LAWS OF THE LOCAL JURISDICTION.
The Constitutional Amendment
This Bill was presented to the House of Delegates in the form of a Constitutional Amendment. The description of the Anne Arundel County location was “within two miles of MD Route 295.” In an effort to protect the local neighborhoods, I supported a House Amendment to mandate that the facility comply with the zoning laws of the local jurisdiction. Now a true quandary existed for me, I had committed to my voters that I would vote for slots and like everyone else, I expected the slots location to be Laurel Racetrack. While I was not pleased with the wording, I had to decide whether to put the Constitutional Amendment on the Ballot or NOT. I knew that Laurel Race Track was within the 2-miles of 295, and I knew the Magnum Corporation had lobbied hard for slots for many years. I was confident that Magnum would put in a good bid for Laurel Racetrack if the Constitutional Amendment passed. Therefore, I fulfilled my campaign promise and cast my vote to allow the voters, by voting on a Constitutional Amendment, to determine the future of slots in Maryland.
Personally, I am not a proponent of gambling. Slots or casinos are of no interest to me and I was surprised when over 60% of Maryland Voters and an overwhelming majority of 62.5% in District 32, voted for slots.
Senate Bill 3 gave the responsibility of regulating Slots to the State Lottery Commission and the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission was given the responsibility to locate and license the slots venues. I expected, like everyone else (maybe naively) a valid license bid from Magnum for Laurel Racetrack would be the only Anne Arundel County bid received. I was surprised when the news announced the Cordish Companies had submitted a bid for Arundel Mills and that Magnum had submitted an incomplete bid for Laurel. Since Laurel did not submit the required fees with their bid, they were ultimately disqualified.
The Zoning Bill
In order for the Cordish Companies to obtain the necessary slots license, they had to obtain the appropriate zoning for the property at Arundel Mills. As Anne Arundel County is a “permissive” zoning county, only the Anne Arundel County Council and the County Executive are able to provide the appropriate zoning. Therefore, the County Executive and the County Council had the responsibility to determine and provide proper zoning for slots. In other jurisdictions, the zoning was decided before the bids for slots were submitted, but Anne Arundel County waited for the bids before legislation was considered. The County Council passed two different bills. Bill 82-09 allowed slots at “regional commercial complexes” (Arundel Mills is the only regional commercial complex in Anne Arundel County, any location seeking this zoning would need to apply for a change in zoning). Bill 81-09 allowed slots in W-1 zoning with very specific conditions that would safeguard any surrounding communities, and it did not allow slots at the Mall as the bill specifically excluded slots at “regional commercial complexes.”
County Executive Leopold VETOED 81-09 and signed 82-09 allowing slots at Arundel Mills Mall. The Anne Arundel County citizens decided that a referendum on Bill 82-09 was appropriate and they were able to achieve the appropriate signatures for the referendum.
On November 2, 2010, all citizens of Anne Arundel County may vote on Question A, it is a referendum on the County Council zoning bill permitting slots at the Mall. The referendum allows the voters to decide if they want Bill 82-09 to go into effect.
- A “YES” vote means that Bill 82-09 remains in effect and construction will start soon for the slots parlor at Arundel Mills.
- A “NO” vote means Anne Arundel County has NO ZONING for slots in Anne Arundel County.
If Question “A” passes, meaning a majority of Anne Arundel County citizens voted “YES”, County Council Bill 82-09 remains in effect and construction will start soon for the slots at Arundel Mill. The building is a separate building from the Mall, but in very close proximity.
If Question “A” fails, meaning a majority of Anne Arundel County citizens voted “NO”, the County Council will need to pass a new bill to grant zoning for slots somewhere in Anne Arundel County. It does not mean the slots go to Laurel. This is because Penn National owns 51% of Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the Laurel Racetrack. Penn National may not own two slots licenses in Maryland as Senate Bill 3 specifically prohibits it:
“(2) AN INDIVIDUAL OR BUSINESS ENTITY MAY NOT OWN AN INTEREST IN MORE THAN ONE VIDEO LOTTERY FACILITY.”
A “NO” vote also means that the County Council will be required to pass new zoning legislation. There will be at least 5 new members out of 7 on the County Council and possibly a new County Executive. It is possible that Councilman Jones’ Bill 81-09 will be resurrected or that there is a different bill entirely. With either bill, the County Executive could choose to veto the bill.
During the 2007 Special Session, when I voted for the amendment to House Bill 4 that stated:
“(5) A VIDEO LOTTERY FACILITY SHALL COMPLY WITH ALL APPLICABLE PLANNING AND ZONING LAWS OF THE LOCAL JURISDICTION.”
I truly believed and still do believe, that I was protecting the citizens of Anne Arundel County. Neither the County Executive, nor the County Council members objected to the description of “within 2 miles of MD Route 295” in Anne Arundel County. County Executive Leopold was not actively communicating with the State Legislators during the Special Session.
In the 18 days of our 2007 Special Session, there was little time for the people of Anne Arundel County to comment or testify on where the State should locate slots, or what House Bill 4 should state. It was my opinion that the local County Council zoning process would protect the citizens of Anne Arundel County much better than 141 Delegates and 47 Senators from all over the State. When I served on the County Council, the Council respected the wishes of the other Council Representatives; obviously, the outgoing County Council and County Executive Leopold did not have the same respect for Councilman Jones and the residents of District One.
I congratulate the citizens of Anne Arundel County, particularly of Harmans, Hanover and Severn, for working to get the 15,000 valid signatures needed for the petition to take Bill 82-09 to Referendum. Some people criticize the fact that Penn National has helped with the referendum including their advertising against slots. While Penn National has a great deal to gain if the slots are not located at Arundel Mills (or anywhere in Anne Arundel County), the citizens that live near the Mall also have a lot to gain by protecting their communities.
Many citizens in Anne Arundel County, and all over Maryland, are concerned about the downturn in our economy and loss of revenues. The proceeds from the slots will certainly help with revenues. If slots are located at Arundel Mills, Anne Arundel County expects about $30 million in revenues, with an additional $400 million to the State. The promise of 4000 jobs is also enticing in this economy. However, many question if the impact to the communities around Arundel Mills is worth $30 million, but I know the unions representing the teachers, fire fighters and police officers think so.
On October 14, 2010, the Cordish Companies announced that the slots parlor at Arundel Mills, referred to as “Maryland Live” will also include an entertainment venue (maybe a Rams Head) and three restaurants; the Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris and a restaurant from acclaimed chef, Bobby Flay. These features are additional exciting venues in Anne Arundel County. However, local residents see this as more traffic and an even greater impact.
This is a difficult issue for all voters in Anne Arundel County. We must weigh the effects of the slots at Arundel Mills on the surrounding communities and consider the revenues that slots could bring to Anne Arundel County. This is an important issue to all residents of our county and most particularly to the residents that live nearby. Please consider this issue carefully and whatever your decision, PLEASE VOTE on Election Day, Tuesday, November 2, 2010. Also, remember early voting, October 22 to October 28.