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Unwanted slot machines could go to Rocky Gap casino

State gambling officials are considering using slot machines removed from the state’s two largest casinos to furnish a future casino at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Allegany County.

Hollywood Casino Perryville asked in August to remove 500 machines from its gambling floor. Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall has made a similar request in recent days. Both were discussed Thursday at the first meeting of the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency is developing regulations that will govern the process through which casinos may apply to remove slot machines. Maryland Live has 4,750 such machines; Hollywood Casino has 1,500.

Executives from both slots parlors say removing machines will make room for table games. Hollywood Casino General Manager Bill Hayles also said that, with revenue down 40 percent year-over-year at the casino, 1,500 slot machines are not needed at the 2-year-old facility just off Interstate 95 in Cecil County.

Timothy Cope, president of Rocky Gap owner Lakes Entertainment Inc., said the company plans to install 550 slot machines and about 10 table games, such as blackjack and roulette.

Lottery Director Stephen L. Martino said it may not be possible to give the company the type of slot machines that it desires, and that casinos that want to remove slot machines may not have some aspects of their requests approved.

“Not everyone’s going to come away completely happy,” he said.

The state’s top fiscal analyst, Warren G. Deschenaux, said Tuesday that reducing the number of slot machines at casinos, taxed at a 67 percent rate, to make room for table games, taxed at 20 percent, could decrease the amount of revenue the state expected to generate through expanding gambling.

J. Kirby Fowler Jr., who was elected chairman of the commission at the meeting’s start, said finding a balance between removing machines and adding table games was being studied.

“That’s what the staff is analyzing right now,” Fowler said. “What is the healthy balance between the two?”

The casino at Rocky Gap, to be operated by Lakes Entertainment-owned Evitts Resort LLC, is scheduled to be the next commercial gambling site to come on line in Maryland. Cope said renovations started Tuesday at Rocky Gap Lodge. The casino should open in June, he said.

The biggest obstacle is securing third-party financing. But Cope said if that money can’t be obtained, Lakes will foot the bill.

“We have the checkbook and we’re committed to write the check,” he said.

The lodge’s conference space is being converted to a gambling area, and the lobby is being renovated to include a bar. That should free up some space in the lodge’s restaurant, where some of the lost conference area will be made up. Evitts cannot operate table games until conference space lost in the casino conversion is replaced.

Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. and former chairman of the now-defunct Maryland State Lottery Commission, was unanimously chosen Thursday to lead the new gambling panel that has taken that commission’s place. Kimberly Robertson Pannell, senior partner for Raffa P.C. in Prince George’s County, has also reprised her role as vice chair.

The meeting was dominated, however, by questions from Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John W. Morton III, who developed a keen interest in the state’s casino industry after chairing a work group that studied gambling expansion over the summer.

Gov. Martin O’Malley asked Morton to join the new gambling panel in October.

“It gives meaning to the two months of my life I spent serving” on the work group, said Morton, formerly a top Bank of America executive.

The work group failed to reach consensus on expanding gambling after three members of the House of Delegates declined to agree to a plan Morton, members of O’Malley’s cabinet and three state senators all signed off on. Morton said that failure to agree was “political.”

“Deep in my heart, I thought was the right thing to do for the state of Maryland,” Morton said. “When it ended the way it did, I was very disappointed.”

He said serving on the Lottery and Gaming Control commission will allow him to see through some of the plans first articulated by his work group.

Morton insisted throughout Thursday’s meeting that agency staff develop plans and precise time frames through which gambling expansion, as authorized by the General Assembly and voters’ decision on Question 7, is implemented over the next several years.

“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to get done,” Morton said.