Editorial: High stakes video poker

There is an understandable urgency to get Baltimore’s slots casino back on track, but it’s not clear whether steps taken this week will help or hurt that cause.

The process has been mired in legal machinations since December 2009 when the state Video Lottery Facility Location Commission threw out the bid from Baltimore City Entertainment Group after the bidder failed to meet several deadlines. BCEG challenged the commission’s action but lost before the State Board of Contract Appeals.

BCEG appealed the board’s decision to Baltimore City Circuit Court, where a hearing has been set for May 25.

On Tuesday, after consulting with its lawyers, the video lottery location commission began seeking a new developer with the blessings of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The problem is that, given the pending lawsuit and BCEG’s motion filed Wednesday seeking an injunction to block the state from opening up the process to other gaming companies, no one has a clue how long it will take for the first quarters to start dropping into the city’s empty pockets.

John F. Dougherty, BCEG’s attorney, raised a very good question when he asked why the state decided to seek a new developer for the city casino just one month before the hearing in the BCEG case.

But the state commission, led by Donald C. Fry, believes it will prevail in court and is anxious to restart the process. Fry says he has already heard from four to six potential bidders.

At least the city and state seem to have learned valuable lessons from the disastrous first round, which produced a grand total of one bidder — BCEG.

On Wednesday, the Board of Estimates approved a memorandum of understanding spelling out the financial terms of the casino operator’s deal with the city. The terms are essentially the same ones negotiated with BCEG in 2009. This time, all bidders will have that information up front, which means they can either accept those terms in their application or propose different ones.

Also, the state’s request for proposal will list exactly which city-owned properties are available as casino sites.

But for now, the fate of the BCEG bid remains in the hands of the courts, and the state and city should proceed very cautiously until that is resolved.

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