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

Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Posted 11:35 PM by

Pa. gambling a reality, slots of questions remain

Regulators handed out Pennsylvania's first five slots parlor licenses today - and the first fines for illegal political contributions - while efforts to reform the slots law finally passed the state Senate, but not the House.

Pennsylvania leaders put the cart full of slot machine quarters before the horse today by issuing five slots parlor licenses before the law legalizing them could be reformed.Pennsylvania handed out the first five slot machine parlor licenses to race tracks across the state Wednesday, even before legislators had a chance to fix the flawed law that legalized them in the first place.

"We really do believe this is an historic day for Pennsylvania," Gaming Control Board chairman Tad Decker said during a meeting across the street from the Capitol.

The seven-member board unanimously awarded licenses to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, just outside Wilkes-Barre; Philadelphia Park in Bensalem; Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack; Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg; and The Meadows in suburban Pittsburgh.

But before Penn National was approved for its license, officials announced the company had reached an agreement to pay a $50,000 fine because two of its directors made political campaign contributions in 2004 and 2005.

The 2004 law legalizing slot machines was supposed to bar such contributions. But it didn't stop Penn National directors Harold Cramer and Robert P. Levy from giving money.

I'd love to tell you who they gave money to, but Cramer and Levy's names are mysteriously missing from the state's crappy campaign contributions online database.

In fact, the only donation I could find was for $250 Harold Cramer of York, Pa., donated to the Brad Moss for Judge campaign on March 16, 2005.

However, an Associated Press article, which does not name the beneficiaries of the donations, says Cramer and Levy agreed to pay fines doubling their political contributions for a total of $2,500 and $3,306 respectively.

Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers called the matter a minor issue.

It isn't.

Penn National Gaming Inc. got a slots parlor license but was fined $50,000 because two of its directors made political contributions in 2004 and 2005. Meanwhile, company officials are continuting to contribute money to Penn National's PAC.A further check of the campaign contributions database found hundreds of contributions from Penn National employees, including many officers, mostly to the company's own Political Action Committee. I don't have time to tally the totals tonight, but you can see the 2004 contributions here and the 2005 contributions here. And here is where Penn National's PAC money has been going.

While the slots law barred officers of potential slots license holders from making political contributions, it did not bar them from contributing to a PAC or lobbyists, which can then make political contributions for them.

It's one of those pesky little things the Legislature didn't have time to address before leaders backdoored the slots law into existence in the middle of the night right before adjourning for a July 4 holiday recess two years ago.

They did make sure, though, to add a provision to let legislators bypass the state Ethics Law and own up to 1 percent of a slots parlor.

Both loopholes were supposed to be stripped out of the law by reform bills before any licenses were handed out, but they weren't. There was talk of calling a special session this summer to address the issues and a bill was even written calling for a moratorium on licenses until after the changes were made and the public had time to analyze them.

Nothing happened.

Predictably, the effort got bogged down in the Legislature this week, which was busy with anti-crime legislation, and Senate Bill 862 was not passed by the state Senate until this afternoon.

"This reform legislation will guard against influence peddling and corruption, toughen enforcement, and ensure accountability and integrity in the casino licensing process," Sen. Jane Orie, a slots opponent, said in a press release.

What barred the Legislature from fixing Pennsylvania's lemon of a slots law before the first licenses were handed out today?That was news to House Republican leader Sam Smith. A spokesman for Smith told the Associated Press that his chamber's leaders do not know what is in the legislation and did not participate in the Senate's closed-door negotiations in which it was drafted.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ed Rendell hailed the slots licenses, saying, "The approval of these conditional licenses is a clear sign to all homeowners that property tax relief is on the way."

Yep, all $200 of it. Thanks, Ed.

One of the many questions I'm left with now is if the bill passes the House tomorrow and Rendell signs it, will the five licensed slots parlors have to adhere to the revised law or are they now grandfathered because Pennsylvania once again put the slots cart filled with quarters before the horse?
 |  0 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

This Week's Rants | The Daily Rant Archives

Creative Commons License
The Daily Rant by Dave Ralis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.