Millions Spent in Slots Campaigns
The debate continues about what Question A on the ballot will actually decide.
Although there isn't a proposal to put a slots parlor at our local mall, signs touting both sides of the slots issue appear all around and ads are flooding the mailboxes of residents in the Greater Annapolis area. It's a vote for jobs or a vote to keep your children safe, depending on who is making the pitch.
The proposed slots parlor at Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover has become a central issue in this year's general election. However, politicians won't decide the fate of the slots parlor — the people will.
On this year's general election ballot, Question A will decide the fate of slots at Arundel Mills Mall. The two sides, which have waged political war against each other, even disagree on what the question will decide.
Currently, Anne Arundel County zoning does not allow for Video Lottery Facilities. Ballot Question A is a vote for or against zoning bill 82-09, which would allow for video lottery facilities "in a W-1 Industrial Park zoning district or at a Regional Commercial Complex." Arundel Mills falls under the regional commercial complex category.
At a forum held Oct. 12, Joe Weinberg, a partner with Cordish Co., the company behind the planned casino, said that a vote against Ballot Question A wouldn't just be a vote against slots at Arundel Mills Mall, but against slots for the whole county.
However, David Jones, chairman of the anti-slots group No Slots at the Mall, countered by claiming the question is merely a decision on whether or not citizens want to put a casino next to a place where children congregate.
"We have the Attorney General, who's saying that this question is strictly about slots at Arundel Mills Mall, and not the county as a whole," said Jones. "The Maryland constitution clearly allows for casinos and voting against Question A won't change that."
Among the concerns Jones has about the facility is its close proximity to the food court, which he characterized as "a place our kids hang out." Citing development documents submitted to the County Council by the casino developers, Jones claims the casino will be 30 feet from the food court. Weinberg says that it will be 125 feet away.
In a battered economy, Weinberg, and the pro-slots group Jobs and Revenue for Anne Arundel County, are using promises of jobs to appeal to voters.
"We will create 4,000 new jobs, which we are committed to filling with Anne Arundel County residents," said Weinberg. "And we'll bring over $450 million in tax revenue to the county."
Jones was quick to dismiss these numbers as "hypothetical," and claimed that Weinberg has no idea how much revenue will actually be generated.
One thing, however, is clear. Almost $5.9 million has been raised in the fight for Question A. This number surpasses the levels of funding for 2008's watershed vote on allowing slots in Maryland.
According to campaign finance reports filed last week, No Slots at the Mall received $3.275 million, all of which came from the Maryland Jockey Club. A little more than $2.8 million of this has been spent on commercials and other media expenditures.
The pro-slots group, Jobs and Revenue for Anne Arundel County, raised $2.6 million, of which $1.3 million has been spent on media.
However, the finance reports hint that this is more than a fight between pro- and anti-slots citizens. Rather, it's a fight between two casino companies.
Casino and gaming Goliath Penn National has a 51 percent stake in the Maryland Jockey Club, meaning the Pennsylvania-based company is behind No Slots at the Mall's fundraising effort.
The pro-slots group, Jobs and Revenue for Anne Arundel County, has received over $600,000 from a company owned by Cordish Co., the developer behind the planned slots parlor at Arundel Mills. The campaign's other $2 million has come from Arundel Mills Limited Partnership, which developed the mall.
At the Oct. 12 forum, Weinberg questioned whether or not the anti-slots group was really a citizen effort, or just a front for Penn National, who obviously has an interest in not letting their competitor build a casino.
Jones shot back, defending his group.
"I don't work for Penn National and I never have," said Jones. "We've never hid the fact that we have a business sponsor, but that doesn't change the fact that our group is made of citizens committed to not allowing slots at a place our children hang out."