Anti-slots group to begin petition drive

The Anne Arundel County Board of Elections has certified a petition to overturn zoning for a proposed slots emporium near Arundel Mills mall, meaning slots opponents can begin gathering the 19,000 signatures necessary to put the issue before voters this fall.

Rob Annicelli, head of an anti-slots coalition in the area, said Monday that the petition was approved last week by the elections board and county legal department. If enough county residents sign the petition, voters will be able to decide whether to reject the casino site.

Baltimore developer David Cordish's 4,750-slot-machine facility, on a parking lot near the food court of Arundel Mills mall, was approved Dec. 21 by the county council.

Slots opponents have little more than a month to collect at least half the needed signatures, Annicelli said. If they succeed, they get another 30 days to gather the rest, he said.

Assisting the anti-slots residents is the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park racetrack in Anne Arundel County. Magna Entertainment Corp., the track's owner, bid for the county's sole slots facility license but was rejected because it didn't pay the required state fees. Magna has also filed a protest of the state's decision to reject its bid.

Annicelli says the residents near the mall are mobilized and that the Jockey Club could collect signatures from southern Anne Arundel residents who are involved in the horse-racing industry.

He says the opponents should have a feel for how they're doing late next week and will likely hold signature-gathering events in addition to going door-to-door.

Cordish has said he does not believe the opponents will succeed and has taken steps to obtain building permits for the casino, which is to be called Maryland Live! A day after winning zoning approval, he filed initial paperwork.

His next step is to put forward a site development plan, and a county spokesman said a pre-submission community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Arundel Mills mall Community Room.