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State Officials Expected to Approve Slots in Cecil County

Background Story from CNS:

Ocean Downs Earns First Slots License in Maryland

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By Bobby McMahon
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009

ANNAPOLIS - State officials are expected Wednesday to approve a bid for a slots parlor in Cecil County, the second such license approved by the state.

The Video Lottery Facility Location Commission is expected to award a license to Penn National Gaming, which has proposed placement of 1,500 machines at a location just off Interstate 95 in Perryville.

The group's bid passed a background investigation by the State Lottery Commission last month.

The casino is expected to bring about 600 full-time jobs to the area, and about 500 jobs during the construction phase of the project. According to Vernon Thompson, head of the Cecil County Office of Economic Development, construction is expected to begin soon after approval, with the opening slated for fall 2010.

In comparison to the often-controversial bids in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore, Thompson said that Cecil County's quest for slots has faced relatively fewer problems. He attributes this to both cooperation between local officials and Penn National as well as the proposed location itself, which was a consensus choice among officials and citizens and is located away from residential housing.

"We're not urbanized," Thompson said. "We don't have a lot of people surrounding the location. It isn't already something else that we want to change. And I think all of that contributes to a much easier way forward."

"You couldn't ask for more in terms of location," Thompson added.

The bid, though, has not been completely free of snags. Initially, Penn National had only submitted the fees and plans for a 500-machine casino. While company officials stated publicly that they were planning to increase that number to 1,500, they did not formally amend their plans and submit the additional $6 million in fees to the state until this month.

The commission approved the amendment Oct. 7.

Eric Schippers, a vice president at Penn National, said his group needed greater clarity on several issues before moving forward with the larger bid. A concern the group had, he said, was how committed state officials were to obtaining top-of-the-line gaming machines so that the parlor can compete effectively. By law, the state will either own or lease the machines and then work with the operators to place them in casinos.

"We want to make sure we have access to the latest, newest product," Schippers said.

Industry experts agree that this concern is valid, particularly as high-tech, cutting-edge machines are available in casinos in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia.

"The whole gaming industry has become very technology oriented," said James Karmel, a consultant for the Maryland Gaming Association. "The games are now as much about providing entertainment as gambling."

After "a series of productive conversations" with lottery officials, Schippers said that his group feels "more comfortable that there is an awareness of this issue."

Copyright 2009 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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