Anne Arundel halts approval on casino until vote or court action

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2010

Anne Arundel County said Thursday that it is halting consideration of plans for Maryland's largest slots casino pending the outcome of a countywide referendum in November or a court intervention before then.

The announcement by County Executive John R. Leopold (R) followed a decision by the Anne Arundel Board of Elections to certify a sufficient number of petitions collected by a group opposed to the 4,750-machine casino at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover.

Under Anne Arundel law, residents can force public votes on zoning decisions and other actions by the County Council through a petition drive. After months of debate, the council approved zoning in December for the casino, which is being developed by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos.

The developer has sued the elections board, alleging that it ignored "glaring and massive fraud" in the petition process, which was aided by paid signature-gatherers.

The petition drive was spearheaded by homeowners near the mall, who argue that a casino would increase traffic and breed social ills, and by horse-racing interests, who would prefer to see slot-machine gambling at nearby Laurel Park racetrack.

A state panel has awarded the sole slots license for Anne Arundel to Cordish. If the zoning is overturned, the license would probably be put out for bidding again, giving the track another chance to compete for it.

In a statement Thursday night, Cordish said it is confident that it will prevail in court and that the casino will be built.

The delay in Anne Arundel could be the largest of multiple setbacks the state has faced as it attempts to launch five slots sites authorized by voters in 2008.

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