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Arundel judge will rule Thursday on casino case injunction

ANNAPOLIS — Citing the “arcane area of law” that is regulation of electronic bingo machines, an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge delayed his decision Wednesday in a preliminary injunction hearing that could allow a Chesapeake Beach mini-casino to stay open.

Judge Philip T. Caroom said he would issue an order Thursday after Wednesday’s closing arguments by the state and lawyers for the Crooked I Bar & Grill stretched until after 5 p.m.

The Crooked I’s owners are suing the state, claiming that legislation passed by the General Assembly unfairly forces them to close their electronic bingo operation while allowing seven similar businesses in Calvert and Anne Arundel counties to stay open.

The judge granted a temporary restraining order July 1 to prevent the law from being enforced, but that order expires Thursday. The preliminary injunction would prevent the law from being enforced until after trial.

The law started as SB 864, which was sponsored by Sen. Jame E. DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel. But Crooked I attorney Ronald H. Jarashow, of Annapolis-based Baldwin, Kagan & Gormley LLC, has argued that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, had the bill drafted to put the Crooked I out of business.

In his closing argument, Jarashow emphasized that Miller asked for the bill to be drafted because of his personal belief that the electronic bingo machines operated by the Crooked I were illegal, despite decisions by the state comptroller and Calvert County State’s Attorney that said otherwise.

“This is a special law,” Jarashow said. “It’s fundamentally unfair to say to the Crooked I they cannot use their license.”

In her closing arguments for the state, Assistant Maryland Attorney General Julia Doyle Bernhardt dismissed the notion that the law was special, saying that it would apply to any business that operated illegal devices such as “sweepstakes” game rooms, where video games are played for prizes.

“This broadly sweeping legislation was clearly not aimed at one business in Calvert County,” Bernhardt said. “It is not a special law.”

She also argued that while owners of the Crooked I testified they would lose $200,000 they invested in a new location across the street from the original parlor and would have to lay off 28 employees if not allowed to continue operating electronic bingo machines, the owners ought to have known the danger of running a gambling business.

“Gambling is, by its nature, a risky business,” she said. “They run the risk of it becoming illegal. … It’s the risk of doing business in this area.”

Jarashow argued that a grandfather clause in the law singles out the Crooked I. The clause says that any business operating electronic bingo machines as of July 1, 2007 is allowed to stay in business. The Crooked I was not licensed by Calvert County until June 19, 2008.

The Stallings-Williams Chesapeake Beach American Legion Post No. 206 in Chesapeake Beach was licensed on the same day as the Crooked I. But an amendment to the bill, offered by Miller and Sen. Roy P. Dyson, D-Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s, carved out an exception for the American Legion to operate 10 machines.