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$12.4M spent on Anne Arundel slots referendum

The high-stakes battle over the right to build a casino in Anne Arundel County cost $12.4 million, according to a report published Wednesday by the state.

The Maryland Jockey Club spent $7.5 million on its failed referendum campaign to derail development of a casino at the Arundel Mills shopping mall. Subsidiaries of The Cordish Cos. — the casino’s developer — and the mall owners spent $4.9 million.

Towson University political rhetoric professor Richard Vatz said the $12.4 million total price tag for the campaign isn’t surprising, given the stakes.

“Slots is a big-ticket item. It brings a lot of money to the beneficiaries,” he said. “When you deal with slots, people are concerned with quality of life and money. They want money for the state but they don’t want their quality of life impacted, so they want slots in other places.”

Cordish’s Maryland Live! Casino is expected to be the largest and most lucrative in Maryland, generating about $1.5 million per day in revenue from the slot machines alone, according to state estimates. Cordish will keep one-third and the state and county will get the rest, about $364 million per year.

Cordish executives are scheduled to present to the state on Dec. 13 a plan for a temporary facility to open while the full, $320 million casino is under construction.

More than $8 million was funneled to advertising expenses during the referendum campaign. The jockey club’s group, No Slots at the Mall, began airing television ads Aug. 13 and spent about $5.3 million. Its Cordish-backed counterpart, Jobs and Revenue for Anne Arundel County, was on television about a month later, and spent $2.8 million.

While outspent early, the pro-slots side poured $1.2 million into advertising in the two weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election. The jockey club spent only $755,000.

Jay Newman, general manager of WJZ in Baltimore, said the advertising spending by campaigns this year — only the governor’s race was more costly at the state and county levels than the slots referendum — was close to, if not an all-time high.

“The overall political spending in 2010, both candidate and issue spending, was unusually strong,” Newman said. “Maryland is not a state that usually sees a lot of spending for candidates. And it’s even more unusual to see a lot of spending for issues.”

The pro-slots group reported spending nearly $500,000 at WJZ, a CBS affiliate. It spent more only at WBAL, an NBC station, and with Comcast Spotlight, the advertising placement arm of the cable giant.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. spent about $17 million combined on their race.

The gubernatorial candidates may have outspent the slots groups, but the spending on the referendum was directed at a much smaller pool of voters.

In Anne Arundel County, the jockey club won 87,539 votes, according to unofficial results, meaning it spent $86.45 per vote. Cordish, with nearly 110,000 votes, spent $56 per vote.

Cordish subsidiaries contributed $3.1 million to the pro-slots effort, while companies controlled by mall-owner Simon Property Group spent $2.25 million.

The jockey club was the sole contributor to the anti-slots group. State campaign finance records do not indicate how much each of its parent companies — Penn National Gaming Inc. and MI Developments Inc. — spent on the campaign. But the $7.5 million spent is more than the $5 million to $7 million club President Tom Chuckas has said the Laurel Park loses every year.