Cordish wins slots approval at Arundel Mills

December 21, 2009 | Drew Forrester

In what could be the beginning of the end for racing at Laurel race track, Maryland developer David Cordish scored a huge win on Monday night when the Anne Arundel County Council voted to approve zoning for Cordish’s 4,750 slots parlor at Arundel Mills Mall.

The vote was 4-2 in favor of Bill 82-09 to approve zoning for Cordish’s planned parlor.  The surprising development on Monday night was the “yes” vote from Jamie Benoit, who had been adamantly against having the casino in Anne Arundel County.

In an odd twist, the Council also approved – by a 4-2 vote – Bill 81-09, which approves zoning for a slots casino in an area just off of I-95 that includes the property in and around Laurel Park.  The only problem?  The Anne Arundel County slots license has already been issued to David Cordish.  A source says the voting of 81-09 was a mere formality, as the County Executive now has the right to veto one of the bills and it’s been public knowledge for some time that John Leopold is in favor of slots at Arundel Mills Mall.

Jamie Benoit turned out to be the “x factor” on Monday night.  It was long thought he was a “rock solid no vote” according to a source at the Maryland Jockey Club.

Predictably, when the Council voted on 81-09 to start the proceedings on Monday night, Benoit simply said, “Nope” with no further explanation when it was time to cast his vote.  That was one of the two “no” votes on 81-09. Trisha Johnson also voted “no” on 81-09.

Then came the shocking turn of events when 82-09 was voted on.  With 2 “no” votes and 2 “yes” votes already in place, Benoit was the 5th of 6 voters and shocked everyone by voting “yes”.

“For two years, I’ve been leading the crusade against slots,” Benoit said in a statement while making his vote.  “It has unpredictable revenue streams and there are addiction issues to consider.  I have a strong personal bias against slot machines, and it was clear to me that 81-09 was bad public policy…so just before my vote, I made a decision if 81-09 passed, I’d go ahead and approve 82-09.”

Ron Dillon, Vice Chairman of the Anne Arundel County Council, was the 6th and final vote and he finished the proceedings with a “yes”, which everyone expected.  That gave Cordish the four votes he needed to win zoning approval.

The victory for Cordish also clearly makes him the front-runner for the January 8th auction of both Laurel and Pimlico race tracks.  It’s not known at this time how many – if any – of the other five remaining bidders will stay in the process, but Cordish would benefit greatly from owning the tracks and having the state’s largest slots casino under his complete control.

Last week in an exclusive interview with WNST, longtime Maryland racing enthusiast Joe DeFrancis stated it was his belief Laurel race track would be unable to operate in the future if Cordish got the votes he needed on Monday night and was eventually able to construct his slots parlor at Arundel Mills, located some 15 minutes to the north of the racing facility.