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Judge denies mini-casino’s injunction bid

An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge denied a Chesapeake Beach mini-casino’s preliminary injunction request Thursday, a decision that will force the parlor to shut down its electronic bingo operation.

Judge Philip T. Caroom is expected to issue a written opinion Friday. Jonathan P. Kagan, a lawyer representing the Crooked I Sports Bar & Grill, said he will not know what options he has for appeal until then.

Kagan and Ronald H. Jarashow, of Annapolis-based Baldwin, Kagan & Gormley LLC, argued in a two-day hearing this week that legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley was an unconstitutional “special law,” which shutters the Crooked I but allows seven similar bingo parlors in Calvert and Anne Arundel counties to remain open.

The parlor was targeted by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, they said, because he believed their bingo machines were illegal.

Kagan said evidence found inadmissible in the preliminary injunction hearing could be considered in a future hearing on the lawsuit’s merits.

“A preliminary injunction is a limited hearing based on limited evidence. A merits hearing is a full trial after complete discovery,” Kagan said. “We didn’t but scratch the tip of the iceberg of the evidence we plan to try to obtain.”

That evidence includes letters between Miller and owners of the Crooked I. The letters were not admissible due to Miller’s legislative privilege, which prevents him from being sued for legislative acts.

The judge’s ruling forces the Crooked I to shut down its 105 electronic bingo machines and puts the parlor’s 28 employees at risk, Kagan said.

“They will obviously follow the order,” Kagan said. “Whether they continue in operation without the machines is a business decision.”

Ryan C. H. Hill, the managing partner of Crooked I ownership group CCI Entertainment LLC, declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Julia Doyle Bernhardt said the plaintiffs did not reach their “heavy burden” to prove a preliminary injunction was merited. The order, if granted, would have prevented authorities from enforcing the law until after trial.

Caroom had previously granted a temporary restraining order preventing the law from being enforced. The order expired Thursday.

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

The Stallings-Williams Chesapeake Beach American Legion Post No. 206 was licensed the same day, but an amendment to SB 864, offered by Miller and Sen. Roy P. Dyson, D-Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s, allows the American Legion to operate 10 machines.