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The Associated Press July 8, 2010, 11:14AM ET

Md. high court to hear slots referendum case

Maryland's highest court has agreed to hear an appeal of a lower court's ruling that stopped a public vote on whether a casino should be allowed near a shopping mall.

The Court of Appeals has scheduled arguments for July 20.

The court will consider whether a zoning ordinance needed for the casino near Arundel Mills Mall in Anne Arundel County is subject to a referendum.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald Silkworth ruled last month that a local ordinance enacted to allow the casino is part of an appropriation package for maintaining state and local government and thus is not subject to a referendum.

Alan Rifkin, an attorney for Citizens Against Slots at the Mall, contends casinos are subject to local authority and subject to a referendum. Rifkin also argues that when Maryland residents voted to legalize slot machines in a constitutional amendment in 2008, they did so with the understanding that all applicable zoning laws would be applied to any proposed casino.

"That was part of the reason why people voted for the slots amendment, because they were reassured that a facility would be subject to local authority," Rifkin said. "One of those local laws has always been the right to take a zoning ordinance to referendum, and this is no different."

The Baltimore-based Cordish Co. wants to build the casino near the mall. A Cordish official could not be reached for comment.

The proposal angered residents near the mall, which already draws big crowds and creates traffic congestion. Opponents of the casino brought enough signatures to the county's election board to put the proposal on the ballot in a referendum in November, but Silkworth's ruling nixed the vote.

The proposed casino could contain nearly one-third of the total 15,000 slot machines allowed in the state. The state's first casino in Cecil County near Interstate 95 could open in October.

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