Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Approvals for casinos at Rocky Gap, Baltimore could come as early as next month

ANNAPOLIS — The state video lottery commission could be close to awarding the license for a proposed slots parlor in Western Maryland, and also appeared to avoid a potential delay in its decision on a downtown Baltimore casino.

Stephen L. Martino, director of the Maryland State Lottery Agency, told the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission during a meeting on Tuesday that the agency had completed its investigation into Evitts Resort LLC, which has proposed the construction of a slots parlor at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Allegany County, making an April decision by the commission possible.

The award would still be subject to approval by the Board of Public Works.

Lakes Maryland Development, the parent company of Evitts, bought out its business partner, Addy Entertainment LLC, this month. Lakes Maryland Development is owned by Minnetonka, Minn.-based Lakes Entertainment, which manages Red Hawk Casino in northern California and has invested in casinos being developed in Cincinnati and Cleveland. The agency’s background investigation found that Lakes had the financial resources necessary to qualify for a video lottery license, satisfying one requirement before a license can be granted.

Bonnie Kirkland, counsel for the Office of the Attorney General, told the commission that a lease agreement for the lodge and golf course — another requirement — was close to finished. The resort is owned by the Maryland Economic Development Corp., and is located in Rocky Gap State Park, which is owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, making negotiations complex, she said.

“There are a number of players in this process,” Kirkland told the commission. “Most major issues have been discussed, and resolved and incorporated in our draft lease.”

She said some minor issues could be resolved in the next “week or two.”

If an agreement can be reached in time with the Allegany County Commissioners on a deal to set up a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, the commission could approve the license at a mid-to-late-April meeting. The county cannot collect property tax on the resort property because it is state owned, but would get payment equivalent to those taxes from the casino under the agreement.

Donald C. Fry, chairman of the commission, urged an Evitts attorney to reach an agreement quickly.

Donald J. Hogan Jr., who spoke to the commission on behalf of Evitts, said there were still some issues that needed to be resolved before the deal could be put into place. Because Evitts leadership is not in state, Hogan said conversations between his client and the Allegany County Commissioners have been difficult to schedule regularly.

But Fry told Hogan the deal needed be closed so the commission could move forward.

“We’re to a point now where we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel,” Fry said. “This is a project that has been vitally important to Allegany County for a number of years, something they’ve been very interested in [and] something I would hope there’s a sense of urgency” to complete.

“I think the commission is to a point where we could make a decision, one way or the other, in the next 30 days, but we can’t make a decision until all these items are in place.”

Hogan said he thought a deal could be reached in the next couple of weeks.

While a decision on the Rocky Gap award seemed close all along, the Baltimore casino award faced the possibility of a lengthy delay at the meeting’s start.

Martino told the commission that his agency had been “alerted” that additional investors were likely to become involved in a proposal submitted by Caesars Entertainment. No official paperwork has been filed, Martino said, but he believed it could be soon.

“We’ve been led to believe it’s a strong possibility,” he said.

Before the commission went into closed session, Martino had said that new investors would lead to a delay in the group’s approval.

But after exiting the closed session, which lasted more than 90 minutes, the commission adopted a motion that allowed it to judge proposals on the ownership group submitted as of March 26. Any additional investors would be vetted later.

In future awards, the commission will be able to review and approve any new investors who take at least a 5 percent stake. The state lottery agency would still conduct its background check, too.

“We obviously would like to move forward expeditiously,” Fry said. “I think this gives us some certainty that there won’t be that delay.”

The background investigation on Caesars and its investment partners, which have proposed to build a Harrah’s casino downtown, should be submitted to the lottery agency by mid-to-late April, Martino said. Fry said it was likely both awards could be made this fiscal year, as early as April.

Martino also said that the Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills mall should easily be ready to open in the first half of June. More than 225 full-time employees are already at work, and that number should grow to 1,500 by the time the facility and its restaurants are operational.

There are 892 slot machines already on the floor at the casino, Martino said, with about 100 being added each day.