Slots opponents file lawsuit to clarify Question 7 -- Gazette.Net


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Opponents of expanded gambling in Maryland filed a lawsuit In Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Friday asking the courts to clarify how many votes next week’s ballot question will need to pass.

While the Maryland Constitution requires a “majority of qualified voters in the state” to approve the expansion, the bill passed by the General Assembly in August — which allows Las Vegas-style table games in existing casinos and allows for a major casino in Prince George’s — requires only “a majority of the voters in Maryland voting on the question.”

Former Prince George's County councilman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel argues that the two criteria conflict and that the court needs to clarify the standard for passage that will be used in the upcoming election.

Voters statewide will decide Tuesday whether to approve the expansion plan, but if the measure passes statewide while a majority of voters in Prince George's County reject it, lawmakers have pledged not to build the casino.

“This is an issue of plain language,” Dernoga, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of eight plaintiffs, said in a statement. “Because the threshold included in Senate Bill 1 is in direct conflict with the plain language of Maryland’s Constitution, there is some confusion and my clients are seeking to clarify the standard required to certify an election result Nov. 6.”

Dernoga said the plaintiffs are citizens who live in the county and have had ongoing concerns with development projects overseen by Peterson Cos., owners of National Harbor in Oxon Hill — the proposed site of a major casino — and the nearby, forthcoming Tanger outlet mall.

It was not clear Friday whether the lawsuit would have any impact on election.

David Paulson, a spokesman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, said that as of late Friday, the office had not been served with the lawsuit.

The Office of the Attorney General has previously declared that a simple majority of votes cast on the specific question is all that is needed for an expansion of gambling to pass, once in a January 2011 letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis and once in a November 2007 letter to Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Dist. 12) of Columbia.

Other issues also are raised in the lawsuit, Dernoga told The Gazette on Friday. The gambling expansion plan effectively circumvented state law by going before voters as a referendum rather than as a constitutional amendment, which would have required a supermajority to pass the General Assembly, he said.

Consequently, the question should be deemed invalid, Dernoga said.

Furthermore, a 2010 ballot question on whether Maryland should hold a constitutional convention failed because a majority of registered voters rejected the measure, even though a majority of voters who cast ballots on the specific question approved it.

The debate over expanded gambling, known as Question 7 on the ballot, has prompted an intense media campaign funded largely by MGM Resorts International, which supports the measure and wants to put the casino at National Harbor, and Penn National Gaming, which opposes the measure and owns Hollywood Casino in Charles Town W.Va., a popular gaming destination for many Marylanders.

Together, the two casino owners have spent about $65 million on the issue.

dleaderman@gazette.net