Group's Appeal on Maryland Slots Gets Hearing

Group's Appeal on Maryland Slots Gets Hearing
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

The Maryland Court of Appeals will hear an appeal by a citizens’ group seeking to get a referendum involving slot machines in Anne Arundel County on the November ballot.

It’s the latest twist in a situation that has delayed construction of a slots parlor already licensed by the state.

Citizens Against Slots at Arundel Mills Mall submitted enough valid signatures earlier this year to get the issue on the county ballot. Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. has a license to build a slots parlor at the mall, which is located not far from Laurel Park.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel, is party to the pro-referendum fight. The MJC believes slots and related amenities should be located at the racetrack.

The state law calls for five slots licenses, with a portion of gaming revenue earmarked for horse racing. Thus far, only one license went to a racetrack—Ocean Downs, a harness track on the Eastern Shore.

Arguments regarding the appeal will be heard July 20, according to the citizens’ group. It stemmed from a county circuit court ruling saying zoning for the mall project is part of the state’s slots appropriations package and therefore not suitable for a referendum.

“We are pleased that the court has accepted the appeal petition,” Alan Rifkin, an attorney for the citizens’ group, said in a statement. "(The bill) neither makes nor contains any appropriation for the current expense of county government and should be placed on the ballot. Zoning and planning ordinances have always been subject to referendum, and (this bill) is not an exception.

“When the people voted in 2008 to legalize slots facilities, they did so with a clear understanding that those facilities were subject to all local planning and zoning laws.”

At the end of June, the MJC and Penn National Gaming Inc. officially entered a partnership whereby PNGI would be involved in the future development of racetrack property owned by the MJC. PNGI has numerous racing and gaming holdings, and is building a non-track slots parlor in northeast Maryland in the busy Interstate 95 corridor.

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