"What's black and white and read all over?"

Saturday, August 05, 2006
Posted 8:24 PM by

Slots of anger over gambling reform

A Pittsburgh radio station suddenly became the epicenter of debate this week over Pennsylvania's slots law.

Did state Sen. Vince Fumo really say he would favor repealing the state slots law?I received an e-mail today from CasinoFreePA coordinator Dianne Berlin, telling me that state Sen. Vince Fumo would be more than willing to repeal the flawed law that legalized slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania.

Although I doubt it, Fumo allegedly made the comment Friday without any prodding at the start of a call-in show on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA.

The station hasn't posted the soundbite on its Web site and Fumo's Web site makes no mention of it either.

Instead, the Philly Democrat's site contains a letter he wrote to state Sen. Jane Orie (R-Allegheny) this week criticizing her for misstating his position on reforming the two-year-old slots law.

"I wish to restate that contrary to your statements, I have never been corruptly motivated in supporting any policy matter related to gaming," Fumo's letter says.

State Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheney, wants Gov. Ed Rendell to call a special session to reform the state's slots law.It later adds, "You have also gone so far as to attempt to attack the character of Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin. Please know that Chairman Rubin has never been accused of wrongdoing and has an impeccable reputation as a public official. In fact, he has repeatedly received the support from your caucus as Chairman of the Turnpike Commission. He is an investor in a gaming company - I am not. I neither control nor direct Chairman Rubin's personal investments. I am not aware of anyone who has suggested that he has used his office to gain improper influence. Furthermore, contrary to your statement, Rubin's wife has not worked in my office in over 2 years."

Rubin, a Fumo ally, is part owner of CGR Gaming Associates L.P, a slot machine distributorship that received a license last week from the state Gaming Control Board.

Rubin's wife, Ruth Arnao, used to be Fumo's chief of staff, but now runs the nonprofit Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods in South Philadelphia.

Fumo's connection to the nonprofit through Arnao has been the subject of a federal investigation into whether the lawmaker coerced $17 million for it from PECO Energy and then dropped his opposition to the electric giant's business plans.

The state Gaming Control Board has banned Arnao from having anything to do with the company her husband has invested in.

How reassuring.

To Orie and other Senate Republicans the whole slots deal is starting to stink to high heaven. They want Gov. Ed Rendell to call a special legislative session this month to reform the law.

"We don't need a special session," Rendell insisted on Marty Griffin's talk show on KDKA. "All they have to do is contact their leaders. There's no law saying they can't sit in August. They need a special session for them to get back to work? I can call a special session but I can't force them to come."

But Orie disagreed, telling host Fred Honsberger on the same station the governor is being "disengenious" because only he holds the power to force lawmakers back from their summer vacation early.

"I don't want to see licenses issued until we have reforms in place," Orie said.

Honsberger had the presence of mine to pit Orie against Rendell on his show and got the governor to illicit this promise: "If the Republican leadership calls everybody back and there's not a quorum, I'll call a special session. ... You have my word."

Rendell also said he vetoed a previous reform bill, S.B. 1209 of 2004, because it would have let "parents and siblings of public officials to have direct and unlimited interests" in a casino.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said he would only call a special session to reform the state's slots law if legislative leaders, two of whom were ousted by voters in May, are unable to bring their membership back to Harrisburg.In an ironic twist, two of that bill's authors, Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill, are the ones who would now have to call their fellow lawmakers back to the capitol.

Both Brightbill and Jubelirer lost their seats in the May primary, primarily for pushing last year's now-repealed pay raise into law.
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