Anne Arundel

Petition filed for vote on slots site

A coalition has submitted nearly 24,000 signatures supporting a referendum on Anne Arundel County's fall ballot that could overturn a decision allowing the state's largest slots casino at a mall.

Citizens Against Slots at the Mall submitted 23,702 signatures to the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections on Thursday afternoon in support of a referendum that would allow county voters to decide whether to permit slots at Arundel Mills, according to the groups coordinating the effort. Joseph A. Torre III, director of the county's board of elections, did not respond to a request for comment.

Stop Slots at Arundel Mills, a citizens group, and the Maryland Jockey Club have coordinated the referendum effort, which began in late December. The signatures submitted exceed the interim requirement of 9,395 signatures needed by Feb. 5 and also surpass the 18,790 total required to place the referendum on the November ballot. The groups have 45 days from the time the zoning for the casino was signed into law to submit the needed signatures.

Baltimore developer David Cordish's 4,750-machine slots facility, planned for a parking lot near the food court at Arundel Mills, was approved Dec. 21 by the County Council.

Joseph Weinberg, a managing partner at the Cordish Cos., said that there are "massive irregularities" in the petition drive.

"Upon review, we are confident the referendum will be struck down as both legally invalid and lacking in the requisite valid signatures," Weinberg said.

Stricter rules on the state's referendum petition drives have made it more difficult to place initiatives on the ballot. Under the new rules that the state elections board imposed in March 2009, people signing petitions must use either their full names, including middle initials, or sign their names exactly as they appear on election board voting rolls. In addition, a printed name required on a petition must exactly match the accompanying signature.

While the citizens groups have depended on volunteers to gather signatures, the Jockey Club hired FieldWorks, a Washington-based group, to organize its effort - in part to ensure the strict rules were followed, organizers said.

Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of Laurel Park, bid for the county's sole slots facility license but was rejected because it didn't pay the required state fees. Magna has filed a protest of the state's decision to reject its bid.

"People are voting with their signatures," said Heather Ford, coalition coordinator for Citizens Against Slots at the Mall. "They want the zoning ordinance on the ballot. Despite bad weather and attempts to block our efforts, we know we will have more than enough validated petition signatures by the time we are done to place the zoning question on the November ballot."

The coalition has hired the Rockville-based law firm Brault Graham LLC, to serve as its escrow agent and oversee the signature-gathering process.