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Cordish mum on plans for gambling referendum

David S. Cordish says “politics is a sport in Maryland,” and he’s tired of playing.

David Cordish celebrated the addition of the final 1,043 slot machines at his Maryland Live Casino Wednesday.

After months of lobbying lawmakers to prevent the state from adding a sixth casino to its gambling lineup, the Baltimore developer struck out last month.

So, as Cordish’s Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall celebrated the addition of 1,043 slot machines — pushing its total to a state-high 4,750, the third-highest total in the nation among commercial casinos — the Cordish Cos. chairman said, unprompted, that company officials would not talk about the upcoming voter referendum, which will decide the fate of a potential Prince George’s County casino and the legalization of table games at every Maryland slots parlor.

“The only thing I’m not going to talk about today is politics,” he said Wednesday. “We’re not talking about whether we’re for the referendum, whether we’re against the referendum, whether David Cordish will go door-to-door.”

After zoning for Maryland Live was petitioned to a referendum in 2010, Cordish spent nights and weekends going door-to-door, pleading his case to Anne Arundel County residents.

This time, Cordish and Joseph Weinberg, president of the company’s gambling division, have been conspicuously silent since the General Assembly adjourned its second special session in August with an agreement in place to allow construction and operation of a 3,000-slot casino, most likely at National Harbor at the foot of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which connects Maryland to Virginia.

Meanwhile, other casino companies — including MGM Resorts International Inc., the potential developer of a Prince George’s facility; Penn National Gaming Inc., operator of Hollywood Casino Perryville and nearby Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va.; and Caesars Entertainment Corp.-led CBAC Gaming LLC, the licensed operator for a proposed Baltimore casino — have thrown money behind the issue on both sides.

Lawmakers speculated in the immediate aftermath of the special session that a deep cut in the tax on slots revenue, which could fall to 49 percent from 67 percent at Maryland Live, had pacified Cordish, previously vehement in his opposition to the state breaking what he called a deal that stated only five casinos would be built in Maryland, including none to the south of his gambling and entertainment emporium in Anne Arundel County.

Cordish, in his first public appearance since the legislature adjourned, wasn’t talking about tax rates or a sixth casino Thursday — except to say that he wasn’t talking about them — but got in one dig at state lawmakers and Gov. Martin O’Malley, when bragging that Maryland Live opened its second phase three months ahead of schedule.

“When we make a promise, we keep it,” Cordish said.

The promise of 1,000 new machines and $100 vouchers mailed to locals — advertised as being valid for only a 90-minute window Wednesday, a period later extended to 5 p.m. — clogged highways leading to Arundel Mills during the normally free-flowing late-morning hours. The traffic jams forced Cordish officials to delay the Phase 2 grand opening ceremony by almost 30 minutes while speakers and members of the media inched toward Maryland Live.

As the ceremony wrapped up just before noon, drivers of 21 cars parked in front of the casino revved the vehicles’ engines and honked horns, unintentionally mimicking the highway sounds many heard while attempting to reach the casino Wednesday morning. The cars, provided by Antwerpen Auto Group, were part of a giveaway in which some frequent casino customers could enter to win a car each Sunday through Thursday in October.

Once inside the casino, traffic was no better. Customers packed the aisles between slot machines, and at several machines, players were lined up, waiting their turn to gamble.

Weinberg said the staggered opening of Maryland Live — the casino opened June 6 and 500 slot machines were added in late July — was part of the company’s business plan.

“It’s nice to have new things open and new excitement with the facility,” Weinberg said.

He added that, after a month in which revenue totals fell following two months in which record state slots revenue was recorded, the opening of the final 1,043 machines should serve as a boost in September. Revenue from Maryland Live accounts for more than 70 percent of the state’s slots total.

While avoiding most referendum talk, both Cordish and Weinberg did say that casino staff was readying for the legalization of table games, such as blackjack and roulette, which depends on voters’ approval on Nov. 6. Cordish said that Maryland Live could have table games operating by spring.

Voters would also allow Maryland casinos to stay open 24 hours a day if they approve the gambling expansion. Weinberg said Maryland Live would add 1,200 employees to its current total of 1,500 if the ballot measure passes.

But Cordish stuck by a statement he made in May, indicating that dealer-operated table games are not vital to the casino’s business model because of the popularity of electronic table games. If human dealers are allowed, he said the electronic versions of table games would not be removed.

“If you’re a player, you’d say I’m playing roulette,” Cordish said. “That’s not fully grasped in the legislature or in the media.”

The casino is now missing just one component, The Prime Rib restaurant, which will open in late fall. Five other well-known restaurant franchises are already operating inside the casino, and the 500-seat Rams Head Center Stage is presenting live entertainment nightly, a company statement says.

Weinberg said there were no immediate plans for the company to start building another casino. Cordish Cos. has had its hand in at least four other casino projects, but each time partnerships soured, leaving Maryland Live alone in the company’s casino portfolio.

Weinberg said he’d be open to developing another casino, if the right opportunity came along.

“Yeah, I think we’re pretty good at it,” he said.