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Temporary Arundel Mills casino to be on ground floor of garage

Joe Weinberg, president of the Cordish Cos. unveils plans for the casino at Arundel Mills to the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission

Joe Weinberg, president of the Cordish Cos. unveils plans for the casino at Arundel Mills to the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission

ANNAPOLIS — The state’s largest casino would open on the ground floor of a parking garage one year from now, according to plans unveiled Monday by a Baltimore developer.

The Cordish Cos. would open the first phase of its casino beside the Arundel Mills shopping mall in the final quarter of 2011, followed by the full entertainment complex about a year later, company President Joe Weinberg told the state slots commission.

“It will be a fully built-out casino facility,” Weinberg said of the first phase of the project. “It will have the feel of a built-out facility.”

Cordish plans to build the parking garage first after breaking ground on the project early next year. Some 2,000 slot machines and a bar with a limited menu would be temporarily housed on the ground floor while the rest of the $320 million Maryland Live! Casino is under construction.

When completed in late 2012, the casino will include 4,750 slot machines and a host of national and local entertainment and dining venues, including a restaurant by celebrity chef Bobby Flay and a Rams Head concert facility. The temporary casino space would then be used for parking.

Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, said after Weinberg’s presentation that his panel would not have to take any action on the plan, but added the early opening of the temporary casino space is “a move in the right direction

“Under the circumstances, this moves the project further along,” Fry said. “It’s also created in such a way that makes phase two much quicker.”

Cordish’s casino is expected to generate more than $400 million in state taxes every year, and $30 million for the county.

Even with the large number of terminals — the next largest would be a Baltimore casino with up to 3,750 machines — the slots at Maryland Live! are expected to be among the busiest in the state, averaging $315 each in daily revenue.

Weinberg said the transition from the temporary casino in the garage would take “no longer than a week,” during which the first wave of 2,000 machines would be shut down and transferred to the permanent gaming floor.

The casino’s central computer system would be located in the basement of the garage, allowing the company to make a “seamless” transition between gaming areas, Weinberg said.

Construction of the entire project is expected to take 18 or 19 months. It would be the state’s third casino, trailing smaller slots parlors in Cecil and Worcester counties.

The state’s other licensed casino locations still remain in limbo.

Fry said the commission would meet with Western Maryland lawmakers to discuss changes that could be made to the Rocky Gap gaming license. That license failed to draw bids in 2009 and again in the fall, even after the legislature sweetened the pot for potential developers.

And the gaming license for downtown Baltimore remains stalled due to an ongoing legal battle. The State Board of Contract Appeals ruled last week Fry’s commission was right in throwing out a bid by Baltimore City Entertainment Group, but BCEG has appealed the decision. Attorneys for the commission don’t expect the case to be heard by the Baltimore City Circuit Court until late May or early June.

Fry, however, said the commission would explore opening the license up to new bidders before the court date.

“We have to make a value judgment on what effect that litigation may have on people who are interested in bidding,” he said.

The track-side casino at the Ocean Downs harness racing track is scheduled for an invitation-only, state-monitored test drive Dec. 29 and would open to the public on Jan. 4. It will have 750 slot machines, and could add 50 more under its gaming license.

Hollywood Casino Perryville was the state’s first. It opened Sept. 27 with 1,500 slot machines.

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