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Maryland Court of Appeals Authorizes a Referendum for Slot Machines in Maryland

Citizens Against Slots At The Mall v. PPE Casino Resorts Maryland, LLC
No. 154 (Md. October 24, 2012)

by Gregory L. Arbogast, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Citizens Against Slots At The Mall v. PPE Casino Resorts Maryland, LLC, is one of a series of cases in which various public interest groups attempted to block the implementation of slot machines in Maryland. In this particular case, the public interest group Citizens Against Slots At The Mall successfully petitioned for a referendum on Bill No. 82-09, which was an Anne Arundel County zoning ordinance that would permit slot machines at the Arundel Mills Mall. PPE Casino Resorts Maryland, LLC (“PPE”) sought to block that referendum by filing an action in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County held that the zoning ordinance was not subject to referendum. The Court of Appeals, however, overturned the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County and held that the referendum for the zoning ordinance was appropriate. Notably, the referendum has already occurred, and the public voted to permit slot machines at the Arundel Mills Mall. The Court of Appeals, however, did not release the memorandum detailing the reasons for its original decision until October 24, 2012.

Section 308(a) of the Anne Arundel County Charter authorizes a referendum on all ordinances with the exception of those ordinances which make an appropriation. The issue in this case was whether the zoning ordinance authorizing slot machines at the Arundel Mills Mall qualified as an ordinance which “makes an appropriation” or was so entangled in an ordinance which “makes an appropriation” that it was inseparable from that ordinance. The Circuit Court refused to permit the referendum because it found that the zoning ordinance was interdependent and legally inseparable from an appropriation ordinance.

The Court of Appeals first addressed whether the zoning ordinance was, itself, an ordinance which makes an appropriation. The Court of Appeals held that the zoning ordinance was not an ordinance which makes an appropriation in accordance with § 308(a) of the Anne Arundel County Charter. The Court of Appeals found that the zoning ordinance was not financially motivated and that that it did not contain any financial provisions. Therefore, the zoning ordinance was not, in and of itself, an ordinance which makes an appropriation.

The next issue that the Court of Appeals addressed was whether the zoning ordinance qualified as an “interdependent and legally inseparable provision from a larger appropriations package.” The larger appropriations package which the zoning ordinance accompanied mandated that a certain amount of revenue raised from the slot machines at the Arundel Mills Mall be spent on education in the State’s public schools. The Court of Appeals, however, found that the zoning ordinance was not inseparable from the appropriations bill. Instead, the Court of Appeals held that the zoning ordinance was no different than any other local zoning law which might derive some benefit for State institutions. Moreover the Court of Appeals did not find that the zoning ordinance was inseparable from the appropriations legislation. In fact, it found that even if the referendum overturned the zoning ordinance, then there would be four (4) other areas in which slot machines were permitted in the State, and that those areas could provide funding for Maryland public schools. Therefore, the Anne Arundel County zoning ordinance was not an inseparable ordinance from a greater appropriations package. As a result, the Court of Appeals overturned the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County and held that a referendum on the Anne Arundel County zoning ordinance was appropriate.


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