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Groundbreaking set for proposed Baltimore casino

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at the future site of Horseshoe Baltimore on Wednesday, officially starting construction of Maryland’s fifth casino.

The road to a casino in Baltimore has included legal challenges, including one from nearby residents concerned about possible release of toxins in the soil at the site.

The ceremony for the city casino, scheduled for 1 p.m., is expected to be attended by Gary Loveman, president, CEO and chairman of Caesars Entertainment Corp., and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Horseshoe Assistant General Manager Alex Dixon said.

The $400 million, 335,000-square-foot casino and 4,000-space parking garage is expected to open early in the third quarter of 2014. The casino is planned to include a 122,000-square-foot gambling floor and up to 3,750 slot machines. Caesars executives have said Horseshoe Baltimore would also have a World Series of Poker room and 80 to 110 table games such as blackjack, roulette and craps.

Jaclyn L. Vincent, the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency’s director of gaming research and chief of staff, said Caesars set a minority participation goal of 37 percent for the project, beating the state’s recommended 24 percent goal.

The casino, one of five approved when voters in 2008 OK’d a General Assembly plan to legalize slot machine gambling, struggled to lure an acceptable developer for years. In 2010, the original winning bid was disqualified for not submitting updated plans and the license fee, forcing the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission to collect a second round of bids.

In 2011, CBAC Gaming LLC — a group led by Caesars — bid in that second round and announced plans to build a Harrah’s casino in the city. The group was awarded a license last summer. Caesars decided to upgrade the facility to a Horseshoe brand after voters approved the legalization of table games last November.

But legal challenges followed, including one by Baltimore City Entertainment Group LP, the original licensee, and another from Harborwest Partners LLC. The State Board of Contract Appeals in September threw out the companies’ appeals because neither firm bid on the casino in its second round.

Harborwest appealed, but a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge in January held that the State Board of Contract Appeals was correct to throw out the group’s challenge.

Though site prep work has been underway for more than a month, the lawsuits have not stopped. In February, a group of city residents and environmental advocates filed a suit that raised questions about past industrial use at the nearly 12-acre casino site.

Residents in nearby Westport worry there are toxins in the soil, left over from a pesticide and chemical plant that operated there from the 1890s through the early 1900s.

A temporary restraining order issued as a result of the lawsuit delayed site prep work, but was lifted by a circuit court judge on March 14. Attorneys for the Maryland Department of the Environment filed a motion to dismiss this month.

A second suit was brought by a pair of Baltimore residents on Monday, accusing the city of allowing chemicals from the casino site to seep into ground water and then the Patapsco River.