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Still plenty of possibilities at Arundel Mills

The jam-packed Arundel Mills commercial district could become even denser in the next several years, depending on the success of the Maryland Live! casino, which opens Wednesday night.

The developers of Maryland Live! casino, which is scheduled to open Wednesday night, are fighting a proposal that would allow construction of a casino at the National Harbor development in Prince George’s County.

With more than 1,400 hotel rooms ready to be booked within one mile of the casino, two more hotels are on the way to Hanover, where Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. President Robert L. Hannon says there remains plenty of land to develop.

Candlewood Suites on Dorsey Road and Fairfield Inn and Suites on Teague Road are next up to come on-line in the expansion of the Arundel Mills commercial district, which has been accelerated since plans for the mega-casino were finalized. The last hurdle to the casino’s opening was cleared Monday evening, when Maryland State Lottery Agency Director Stephen L. Martino signed the facility’s operations license after a controlled demonstration Saturday.

“A number of vacant parcels changed hands in recent years, and the intent of the purchase was for continued intense retail development,” Hannon said. “Maryland Live! comes in behind that and reinforces all that has preceded. The onset of Maryland Live! is very consistent with the master planning for the whole Arundel Mills commercial center, and I would expect it to sustain that and increase the density.”

But that outlook could change pending the decision of a state government work group studying gambling and the ensuing actions of the Maryland General Assembly in a likely special session in early July, when lawmakers are expected to consider allowing the construction of a casino at the National Harbor development in Prince George’s County.

The group next meets on June 12, when it expects to discuss the findings of a gambling expansion study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Though no formal economic impact study has been conducted by Anne Arundel County’s economic development arm, Hannon said he expects several thousand indirect jobs to be created if the Maryland Live! casino in Hanover is successful. Local business owners are hoping for a 10 to 15 percent bump in business once gamblers roll into town.

New, large-scale development is already underway in the area, as Southern Management Corp., developers of The Hotel at Arundel Preserve, is building luxury apartments across Arundel Mills Boulevard from the hotel, which could also expand as the area continues to grow. The Maryland Live! master plan calls for developer The Cordish Cos. to build its own hotel, too.

But a similar casino just down Route 295, across the Potomac from Alexandria, Va., could blow up those projections, Hannon said.

“The economic disruption would be substantial in the Arundel Mills commercial district,” he said.

So go the casino wars, in which local governments looking to raise or protect local dollars have joined with developers desperately seeking to snare or maintain their share of the gambling pie.

In one corner, Cordish says a casino at National Harbor would reduce the Arundel Mills facility’s market by 40 percent, and Hannon suggests economic development in the district will suffer.

In the other corner, a group led by Caesars Entertainment Corp. CEO Gary Loveman and Milt Peterson, chairman of National Harbor developer The Peterson Cos., say legalizing table games and lowering the tax rate on slot machines will increase the net revenue of every casino operator and pump an extra $50 million in tax dollars into the state coffers annually.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III wants a casino at National Harbor to be a revenue generator for his county. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants table games added to the state’s gambling repertoire so a Russell Street casino will draw from Caesars’ large network of high-rolling gamblers who prefer facing off against live dealers, not pushing buttons on a slot machine.

Other elected officials have been bit by the gambling bug, too, as Harford County Executive David R. Craig last week asked John W. Morton, chairman of the gambling work group, to consider authoring a plan that puts a casino in Harford County.

Caught in the middle are the Hanover-area businesses that are making development and expansion plans based on the state’s gambling reality.

“If you poll any of the existing businesses, [they say] this could be a dramatic change of what they have expected and what they have begun their planning for,” Hannon said. “There’s a lot riding on it. There’s a lot riding on individual private investment. There’s a lot riding on it in terms of this whole venture for the state of Maryland.”