02/25/2010 12:00AM

Casino developer files lawsuit in Maryland

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The developer of a slot-machine casino near Laurel Park in Maryland has filed a lawsuit against the Anne Arundel County Board of Supervisors of Elections, alleging the board has ignored irregularities in a petition drive sponsored by Laurel's owner, Magna Entertainment.

The lawsuit, filed by a subsidiary of the Cordish Cos., contends the board has failed to check for fraudulent signatures in a petition filed by a group supported by Laurel seeking to force a November vote on the county's decision late last year to grant zoning approvals for the casino at Arundel Mills mall. The suit also alleges that the petition organizers "misrepresented and concealed facts" about the referendum while collecting the signatures.

The Cordish Cos. last year received the sole casino license in Anne Arundel allowed under law. Laurel Park is seeking to block development of the casino to keep hopes alive that it would receive a license.

Laurel's parent, Magna Entertainment, filed for bankruptcy last year and is in the process of marketing Laurel and its sister track, Baltimore's Pimlico Racecourse, to potential buyers. Laurel's value would be significantly increased by its potential to receive a slot-machine license.

The county board has validated 13,136 of the petition's 23,702 signatures so far, according to the board's website. A total of 18,790 signatures are needed to force a November referendum that could overturn the zoning approvals. The elections board has until March 8 to validate the signatures.

Steve Rabinowitz, a spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based company, FieldWorks, that was paid by Magna to collect the signatures, called the lawsuit "frivolous" in a statement.

"This lawsuit has no merit," Rabinowitz said. "This issue is headed for the ballot and these fabricated allegations will not deter the will of the citizens of Anne Arundel County." Rabinowitz added that the firm expects to file an additional 15,000 to 20,000 signatures.

The attorney who is representing Cordish did not immediately return phone calls on Thursday morning.

The lawsuit has sparked competing claims about the petition drive. On Wednesday, the petition organizers, a group almost wholly funded by Magna called "Citizens Against Slots at the Mall," said that it notified the state and country boards of elections that people who signed the petition "have been the target of ongoing harassment, interference, and more recently, misleading and manipulative phone calls from individuals claiming to represent a legitimate polling company."

In addition, the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office has referred the Cordish Cos.'s allegations of fraud in the petition drive to the Office of the State Prosecutor, according to the Baltimore Sun.

"Our office reviewed the allegations, and the serious nature of those allegations led us to refer the allegations to the state prosecutor's office," the Sun quoted Kristen Fleckenstein, a state attorney's spokesperson, as saying.