Slots In Maryland — Big Loser Is Magna Entertainment

Posted on February 5, 2009

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Slot machines in Maryland: Fiasco of the year!

If slots flop, guess what's next.

If slots flop, guess what's next.

Magna Entertainment, the Canadian casino operator that invaded Maryland with dollar signs in its eyes, is the big loser. Hey, nobody said playing slots was a game for the faint-hearted!

Magna bought the Maryland Jockey Club and took over Pimlico Racetrack in northwest Baltimore City, and Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel County. They had dreams of casinos at Pimlico, Laurel, and maybe even Timonium. With two major racetracks, Magna seemed poised to be the major player as the Maryland General Assembly and two governors haggled for years over the when and where of slot machines in Maryland. A ton of money was on the table!

But when the Maryland lawmakers finally approved a proposal for gambling at five sites, and sent it to the voters for referendum, Pimlico was not on the list. Never mind, the biggest and most lucrative location seemed tailor-made for Magna’s racetrack at Laurel.

When the bids for state slot-machine licenses came in this week, lo and behold, Magna appeared to stumble badly. They were beat like a drum by The Cordish Companies, a highly respected Baltimore developer with deep, deep pockets. Cordish came in with a surprise bid for a big casino at Arundel Mills, just up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from Laurel Park. Cordish proposes to put 4,750 slot machines (the max allowed) into a casino at the Arundel Mills mega-mall and cineplex, which is ideally located at the B-W Parkway and Route 100. This could be an international destination casino and entertainment complex (that’s the kind of thing Cordish does), because it’s only two miles from the BWI Airport.

Meanwhile, Magna failed to even pony up the required $28.5 million licensing fee, to the consternation of every big-name politician in the state.

What in the world happened? Was Magna unable to raise the money? I doubt that. I have no inside information. But the scenario in my mind is that Magna was shocked into inaction, like a deer in the headlights, when it found out it was up against Cordish.

I don’t know how much Cordish bid. They plan to build a $1 billion palace for their casino, probably on some of the acres of parking that surround Arundel Mills mall. Whatever they do, Cordish will do it right, first-class all the way. That’s their reputation, and they have the money to do it.

In a battle between Cordish and Magna, I’d put my money on Cordish. What happens next? The Baltimore Sun’s Maryland Politics blog (see feed in right sidebar) is predicting a court battle that could go on for years.

But Cordish says it can break ground for its grand casino this year. And employ 2,000 construction workers.

Anything might happen next. You couldn’t make this stuff up. — Bernie Hayde

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Posted in: Maryland, News, Politics