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Pre-Election Lawsuit Tries to Nullify Gambling Referendum

A civil case adds to the controversy over Question 7.

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - Former Prince George's County Councilman Thomas Dernoga filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the constitutionality of the expanded gambling referendum.

If successful, the lawsuit could nullify the results of Question 7 on Tuesday.

The suit argues that in order for Question 7 to pass, the majority of all registered voters, not just those who turn out to vote, would need to approve the measure. The suit names Gov. Martin O'Malley, Attorney General Doug Gansler, the State Board of Elections and others as defendants.

"There has been some confusion created about the standard required to certify the election result," Dernoga said.

Dernoga's claim is based on the language of the constitutional amendment that legalized casinos four years ago.

The language at question is from Article XIX, Section 1(e) of the state constitution, which reads:

"The General Assembly may only authorize additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming if approval is granted through a referendum, authorized by an act of the General Assembly, in a general election by a majority of the qualified voters in the State."

The suit argues that the term "qualified voters" means all registered voters, not just those who actually go to the polls on Election Day.

"I'm amazed it has taken this long for someone to have done this," said Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland. "It is so painfully obvious."

In the last presidential election, 78 percent of registered voters in Maryland went to the polls. If there is a similar turnout in this election, about 65 percent of people who actually vote would need to be in favor for the measure to get a majority of registered voters.

Polls leading up to the election show voters are evenly split on the gaming question.

Eberly said that if Question 7 passes Tuesday, he would expect a judge to put a hold on it until a hearing is held.

"Unless a judge, for blatant political reasons, wants to ignore the plain language of the constitution, it would be impossible to dismiss that," Eberly said.

Gansler's office declined to comment, but forwarded two letters which discussed the issue. One, a letter sent to House Speaker Michael Busch in 2011 by Dan Friedman, counsel to the General Assembly, rejects the interpretation that all registered voters must be counted. The letter reads:

"Thus, it is our view that only a majority of the votes cast in favor of the expansion of gaming is needed for it to be adopted."

In another letter, sent in 2007, Assistant Attorney General Bonnie Kirkland said it was her view that "the language requires a majority of votes cast on the question."

The campaign fight over expanding gambling has amassed close to $80 million in contributions so far, largely between the company hoping to open a casino at National Harbor, MGM Resorts International, and the company hoping to protect its interests in West Virginia, Penn National Gaming.

Experts have said the money invested in the campaign will be well spent for whomever wins, but depending on the outcome of this lawsuit, both companies could leave Maryland with a little less cash.

Kevin E November 05, 2012 at 11:46 AM
We already have the most degenerative form of gambling - slot machines. Richard, I think your stance against gambling has already been undermined by the popular vote once, and this is a terrible reason to not support positive expansion of gambling for increased revenue.
Jay Friedman November 05, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Tony, what does West Virginia have to do with Dernoga's position. Even though he is no longer an elected official, he should be supportive of jobs for Prince Georges County.
Peter Kulkosky November 05, 2012 at 05:19 PM
This area and many other great cities in America are known as non-casino areas. We are proud of our status and the financial success which has enabled our freedom. I recall how Atlantic City stood before the takeover, and now it has lost its former image to the western Las Vegas type feeling. Slot machine gambling doesn't belong in the National Capitol area in view of its general association with loose money and organized crime.
Shaka Zulu November 05, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Bring on all forms of Gambling, it has a better return on your money than the banks do, the stock markets does, politicians are ruining us all, We are going to let gays marry, illegals stay and take tax payer money, so can we at least pass the legalization of prositution, the girls would have jobs at least, more than the democrats have given us.
Peter Kulkosky November 06, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Is it gambling really, or only real estate development to generate revenue for nearby businesses, hotels and restaurants? We hear the reports of hotel companies and of construction plans involving sums only an economist can understand. How can we afford to contribute to these already rich corporate interests? They have advertised it, such that it sounds like a charity. Save your money, gamble on stocks or other investments, the proposed benefits come across as advertising gimmicks. They're better off giving discounts in the hotels and other entertainment facilities in National Harbor.to popularize it and generate sales.

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