The city's slots saga took a turn yesterday when the state Supreme Court issued a preliminary injunction, or, a temporary hold, against the City Council-approved casino referendum.

"The feeling is just outrage," said Daniel Hunter, coordinator for Casino-Free Philadelphia. "We are outraged by the decision. It's a very cowardly way to avoid public opinion."

Asking voters if casinos should be built within 1,500 feet of homes or public spaces, the referendum was planned for inclusion in the primary election ballots on May 15.

Council members approved the referendum in late March. Some suspect that members felt pressure from citizens to vote favorably in light of the upcoming elections.

The referendum process wasn't "taken seriously," said Dan Fee, spokesman for SugarHouse Casino, who questioned the legality of it. "Just because they were facing election is not a reason to do the wrong thing."

The Gaming Board moved to quash the referendum by filing a lawsuit claiming that it conflicts with state law, which gives the board total control as to where casinos are built.

"We are grateful that the court recognized the urgency of moving this forward and the damages the referendum would have to all commonwealth citizens," said Doug Harbach, a board spokesman.

He said damages include denying citizens property tax relief, job opportunities and economic development.

Hunter disagreed.

"The referendum would let people have a say as to where and how [casinos] are built," he said. "It won't kick them out of the city. That argument carries no weight."

The court ordered City Council and the Gaming Board to file briefs presenting their arguments by April 27. Harbach suspects that the Supreme Court will make a decision shortly after.

"It's pretty obvious that they want to move at a fast speed," he said. *