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Foes of slots site confirm use of paid petition help

Slots

The president of the Maryland Jockey Club confirmed Monday that a coalition plans to use paid signature-gatherers in its efforts to force a public vote on a new zoning law that allows construction of the state's largest slots casino at Arundel Mills mall.

"It would be fair to say that there would be a firm employed by the coalition," said Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas, who declined to elaborate.

The Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park racetrack, has teamed up with anti-slots activists in a bid to derail last month's zoning decision by the Anne Arundel County Council.

Like other Maryland jurisdictions, Anne Arundel allows residents to challenge legislation through a ballot drive. If the opponents collect about 19,000 signatures, the zoning law will be suspended pending next year's election.

Under the Anne Arundel charter, the number of signatures collected must exceed 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the county in the last gubernatorial election. In 2006, 189,150 votes were cast.

The first half of the signatures is due Feb. 5. If the coalition meets that target, they will be given 30 more days to collect the second half.

Chuckas also acknowledged that the Jockey Club's participation in the petition drive could be short-lived, depending on the outcome of this week's auctioning of Laurel Park.

Cordish Cos., the developer of the mall-based casino, is among a half-dozen suitors of the racetrack, whose current owner, Magna Entertainment, is in bankruptcy proceedings. Cordish has said it has no plans to put slots at Laurel, as the Jockey Club advocates.

If Cordish buys the track, the Jockey Club's petition efforts "would cease," Chuckas said. For now, he said, the club is planning to invest "both financial and human assets" into the petition drive.

Meanwhile, the leader of an anti-slots group said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the chances of success for the petition drive.

Rob Annicelli, president of Stop Slots at Arundel Mills, said his organization is working "at arm's length" with the Jockey Club and could not confirm its plans regarding paid help. The groups have divided up the county in an effort to maximize their efforts, Annicelli said.

"We're looking forward to working with these folks, and we'll see how it goes," said Annicelli, whose group unsuccessfully sought to convince the County Council that the 4,750-machine casino would cause unmanageable traffic congestion and erode the mall's "family-friendly" atmosphere.

By John Wagner  |  January 4, 2010; 6:15 PM ET
Categories:  John Wagner , Slots  
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