Penn National denies role in Question 7 legal challenge -- Gazette.Net


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As it turns out, the election may not have been the end of the battle over Question 7.

Penn National Gaming is denying any role in a lawsuit filed this month that challenges the number of votes the ballot question needs to pass.

The lawsuit, brought against the state by eight Prince George’s County residents, alleges a discrepancy between the number cited in the Maryland Constitution and the number cited in the expanded-gambling bill that lawmakers passed this summer.

Meanwhile, two other Prince George’s residents have sought to intervene as defendants in the lawsuit, arguing that they have a strong interest in the additional revenue and education funding expanded gambling would bring and that the initial complaint is trying to “declare their votes null and void.”

In a memorandum arguing for dismissal of the lawsuit, attorneys for Zeno St. Cyr II of Fort Washington and John L. Huggins Jr. of Accokeek allege that “litigation is funded by competing West Virginia casino interests opposing Maryland gaming expansion.”

Not so, says Eric Schippers, senior vice president for public affairs with the Wyomissing, Pa., casino company that owns Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, W.Va., a popular gambling spot for Maryland residents.

"Penn National Gaming is not a party to an independent civic group's Constitutional challenge to the Question 7 election results, nor is it a financial backer of the group's efforts," Schippers said in a statement Friday. “This is a matter for the courts to decide and Penn National Gaming has no plans to intervene."

A majority of Maryland voters approved the ballot measure — which allows table games at the state’s existing casinos and authorizes a sixth casino, to be located in Prince George’s — in last week’s election.

Timothy Maloney, an attorney for Cyr and Huggins, said he also represents Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., developers of the waterfront National Harbor complex in Oxon Hill, a prospective site of a Prince George’s casino.

In the run-up to the election, Peterson Cos. donated more than $3 million to two ballot-issue committees that bought ads supporting gambling expansion.

Maloney told The Gazette Monday that “there’s no question that this [suit] is motivated by Penn National,” and said Cyr and Huggins had no connection to National Harbor other than being its neighbors.

The attorney for the eight plaintiffs, gambling opponent and former County Councilman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, denied that Penn National is involved in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are area residents who object not only to the casino plan but to other Peterson Cos. projects such as the forthcoming Tanger outlet mall nearby, Dernoga said.

Maloney argued that Dernoga himself had connections to Penn National, citing a Washington Post article last month that said Dernoga admitted taking $1,000 from the casino company to organize opposition at his voting precinct. Furthermore, Maloney’s intervention motion was provided to The Gazette by Penn National, and Maloney said the company could have gotten it only from Dernoga.

Dernoga said that he’d worked as a precinct captain at the request of slots opponent and former Del. Gerron Levi (D-Dist. 23A) of Bowie, that he had not been paid and that the Post article didn’t accurately describe his work. He also said he had not provided Penn National with a copy of Maloney’s motion to intervene.

The lawsuit filed by Dernoga highlights the fact that while the Maryland Constitution requires a “majority of qualified voters in the state” to approve the expansion, the bill passed by the General Assembly in August requires only “a majority of the voters in Maryland voting on the question.”

The Office of the Attorney General has previously declared that a simple majority of votes cast on the specific question is all that is needed for an expansion of gambling to pass, once in a January 2011 letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis and once in a November 2007 letter to Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Dist. 12) of Columbia.

About 1.29 million people, or 51.9 percent, voted in support of the ballot question, with about 1.19 million, or 48.1 percent, voting against.

In the weeks before the election, Penn National poured more than $42 million into a campaign urging voters to reject an expansion of gambling.

MGM Resorts International of Las Vegas, which wants to build an $800 million casino and resort at the National Harbor complex, pumped more than $40 million into the campaign in favor of the measure.

dleaderman@gazette.net