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CSA rejects challenge to electronic bingo law

The Court of Special Appeals has ruled against the owners of a Chesapeake Beach mini-casino who alleged that a 2012 state gaming law was designed to force them out of business.

Ronald H. Jarashow argued in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court last year that a grandfather clause in the law on bingo parlors singled out the Crooked I. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

The owners of CCI Entertainment LLC, which operates as the Crooked I Sports Bar & Grill, alleged that the legislature in general, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller in particular, sought to stop the electronic bingo operation at Crooked I while allowing seven similar operations in Calvert and Anne Arundel counties to remain open.

The law, introduced by Sen. James “Ed” DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel, allowed establishments that operated electronic bingo machines to remain in operation but made bingo machines that look and operate like slot machines illegal.

On Wednesday, the court held that the machines operated by the Crooked I fell outside the definition of the legal instant bingo machines that were in operation at the seven other establishments.

According to Crooked I’s lawsuit, the law as written would grandfather in any business operating the bingo machines as of July 1, 2007. The Crooked I was not licensed by Calvert County until June 19, 2008.

The lawsuit alleged that the 2012 legislation violated the Maryland Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and its prohibition on “special laws.” Crooked I also argued that the law constituted an unfair taking of property because it made its 105 machines, which bring in 95 percent of the business’ money, illegal.

An Anne Arundel County judge ruled against Crooked I in 2012. The Court of Special Appeals upheld the lower court in an opinion issued late Wednesday afternoon.

“The passage of the 2012 law did not revoke CCI’s bingo license,” Judge Christopher B. Kehoe wrote for the appellate panel. “It simply clarified the type of machine that CCI, as a commercial bingo licensee, could legally operate. Nothing in the law prevented CCI from complying with it.”

The decision was published by the court late Wednesday. Ronald Jarashow, an attorney for the owners of the Chesapeake Beach business, said Wednesday he could not comment on the possibility of an appeal to the Court of Appeals.

“I can’t say because I haven’t seen [the ruling],” said Jarashow, of Baldwin, Kagan & Gormley LLC, an Annapolis law firm. “Under most circumstances I would say I would seek a review.”

As filed, Crooked I’s lawsuit named the state, Gov. Martin O’Malley, the General Assembly and the Calvert County state’s attorney as defendants.

According to court documents, the largest facility allowed to stay in business is the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant, also in Chesapeake Beach. The restaurant is represented by Gerard E. Evans, a former Miller aide and the highest-earning lobbyist in Annapolis during the six-month period that included the 2012 legislative session.

The case is CCI Entertainment, LLC T/A Crooked I Sports Bar & Grill Et Al. v. State, No. 766, Sept. Term 2012.