By ELI SEGALL
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 18, 2008)—State Comptroller Peter Franchot slammed the parent company of two Maryland racetracks Wednesday, accusing the firm of "legalized bribery" for wanting to spend $2 million to support the November slots referendum.
Franchot, a Democrat, described the Canada-based firm, MI Developments Inc., as a "sleazy foreign company" that will use the money on "deceptive ads." The company owns a majority stake in Magna Entertainment Corp., which operates Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.
MI Developments recently said that Magna could spend up to $2 million to back the Nov. 4 referendum, which would authorize up to 15,000 slot machines at five sites throughout Maryland. Laurel Park is one eligible site.
"We always thought that it was going to be a $1 million check in a dirty, brown paper bag at midnight," Franchot said with a grin, at a press conference in front of Trinity United Methodist Church in Annapolis. "Instead it turned out to be $2 million, and there's going to be more coming after."
MI Developments CEO Dennis Mills said in a phone interview that he was "mystified" by Franchot's comments, which he called "very odd and very unique."
"All the other contributors are OK, but we're not OK?" he said.
Franchot did not call Magna's contribution illegal. Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the state Board of Elections, said there is no limit on how much money can be donated to a committee formed to pass or oppose a referendum.
The comptroller has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the ballot item, speaking at several events held by the activist group Marylanders United to Stop Slots. According to the group's Web site, he is scheduled to speak at three more Stop Slots events before the November election.
Wednesday, Franchot said Magna, which operates 10 racetracks around the country, only wants "to fleece our constituents."
"Believe me, when you get one $2 million check, there's no question who's boss," he said. "And if you think that Magna has the interests of Maryland children anywhere on their agenda, or Maryland open space, or the Chesapeake Bay, or Maryland's health care, I've got a bridge to sell you."
Still, some opponents want the referendum blocked for religious reasons. The Rev. Andrew Gunn, a retired Methodist pastor from southern Maryland, spoke at the press conference and described slots as anti-religious and "one-armed bandits."
"They are contrary to Christian ethics, they're a vice, and they should be illegal," he said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.