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Thursday, July 20, 2006
Posted 10:56 PM by

Pa. gaming board overrides intent of slots law

Regulators let a casino lobbyist, who hid his interest in a slot machine distributorship behind his kids' names, continue to give money to politicians despite a state ban on campaign contributions from gambling-related companies.

Lobbyist Stephen Wojdak will be able to keep his interest in a slot machine distributorship and continute to give political contributions to state lawmakers thanks to the Gaming Control Board.Weakening an already ridiculously wimpy industry-written 2004 law legalizing slot machines in Pennsylvania, the state Gaming Control Board today let a casino lobbyist continue to make political contributions even though his two minor children are listed as having a financial interest in a slot machine distributorship.

Stephen R. Wojdak has given more than $50,000 to political campaigns or political action committees since Liberty Gaming Distributors LP filed its application for a state license in February, the Associated Press reported. (For a complete list of his contributions for the last three years, click here.)

Wojdak's name does not appear on Liberty's application, nor is he listed on the gaming board's Web site as having any connection any of the 16 companies now licensed to distribute slot machines in the state.

The 2004 law legalizing slot machines was supposed to bar anyone with an interest in gambling from making political contributions. But lucky for Wojdak, it did not prevent anyone with such ties from lobbying people with the power to decide the future of gambling in the state.

Is it any wonder now why state Sen. Vince Fumo held up the state budget last month in the hope he could strengthen the slots law?

Wojdak spent at least some of the $812,000 he received last year to lobby state lawmakers and executive branch officials on behalf of his gambling-related clients. They included Delaware Casino Development ($108,136), Delaware River Development Group ($613), the PA Thoroughbred Horseman's Association ($13,132), Community Education Partners ($7,831), state records show.

And his was but a small part of the $4.5 million spent last year by lobbyists with ties to gambling-related companies.

I'd love to tell you which lawmakers received all that money, but Pennsylvania's lobbying laws do not require it and neither does a "lobbying reform" bill approved by the state House last month.

Meanwhile, no other state in the nation with gambling requires slot machine distributors. They just let their casinos buy machines directly from manufacturers. So the use of in-state middlemen is simply a ploy to payback political friends of the lawmakers - one the state Senate tried but failed to do away with last month.

Despite all of that, the gaming board approved Liberty Gaming's application for a distributor license today. But the board attached conditions designed to prevent Wojdak from using money in the trust he set up for his children.

"He's out of it," board chairman Tad Decker told reporters following the meeting. "His children are beneficiaries of it. Draw your own conclusions."

No Tad, that's what we pay the board to do.

At least we used to. The board itself is running out of money, and given this decision, that might not be a bad thing.
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