But the quick, conclusive ruling by a Court of Common Pleas judge was a victory for the two casinos that have been awarded licenses for giant slots parlors along the Delaware River. The judge upheld a claim that the petition organizers, who submitted paperwork with 27,000 signatures, actually had collected fewer than 7,000 valid signatures of registered voters.
“We’re pleased that the judge saw that the claim that there were 27,000 signatures was false,” said Richard Sprague, the Philadelphia lawyer and SugarHouse casino investor who handled the case. “It really was a bad play by those so desperate to knock out gaming.”
Bucks County Judge Ward Clark upheld a SugarHouse claim that there was “widespread and pervasive fraud” in the gathering of signatures. Clark was sufficiently persuaded by the SugarHouse argument that he didn’t bother to review the thousands of contested signatures.
The Bucks County judge was brought in after city President Judge C. Darnell Jones II asked for an out-of-county judge.
Casino Free Philadelphia, a coalition of antigambling activists, neighborhood groups, and aspiring Council candidates, promised to appeal Clark’s decision to Commonwealth Court.
“This thing’s going up on appeal, it’s coming back, and we’re going to count the signatures,” said Larry Otter, Casino Free’s attorney.
The group claimed that a petition SugarHouse had to file in order to get yesterday’s hearing was itself flawed. That petition required 100 valid signatures, but Otter said it contained fewer. Clark cut short a request to examine that petition after finding errors in a list of challenged names.