The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics yesterday ordered a legal review of contentions that some petitions seeking a referendum on legalized gambling were improperly circulated.

Claims of irregulairites were filed with the board last week by the Rev. Ernest Gibson, executive director of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington; the Rev. Andrew Fowler, executive secretary of the Committee of 100 Ministers, and D.C. City Council member William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5).

All of them cited news reports that members of th D.C. Committee on Legalized Gambling had hired 40 young people and paid them $6 an hour to circulate petitions, possibly in violjtion of the referendum law.

Without discussion of the issues, James L. Denson, the election board chairman, told the board's general counsel to review the contentions and recommend by Friday whether a further investigation should be conducted by the board's office of campaign finance.

Among unresolved legal issues is whether improper circulation of petitions would invalidate the signatures calling for a referendum, or whether criminal prosecution would be warranted.

The petitions contained more than 15,000 signatures. The board is scheduled to decide next Wednesday whether a referendum should be put on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Also yesterday, the Convention Center Referendum Committee, following a D.C. Superior Court ruling, filed a renewed request for a referendum Nov. 6 that if successful could block the District from seeking $27 million from Congress to complete the center. A board decision is expected next Wednesday.