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Saturday, February 02, 2008
Posted 9:50 PM by

Doing the Slotsylvania shuffle

Who's to blame for this mess? Here's a hint.Former Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board chief Tad Decker blames the state police for not sharing what they knew before the board licensed now-indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

"If it's true that Mr. DeNaples lied, [the state police] did a horrible disservice to the citizens of this commonwealth," Decker told the Philadelphia Inquirer Friday.

Bruce Edwards, a state police sergeant who heads the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, pointed a finger back at the control board Thursday, repeating hiss public charge that the staties should have done the background investigation on DeNaples, not privately hired investigators with no real power.

He and others have also said the state police were not about to jeopardize their "ongoing investigation" of DeNaples' alleged mob ties by releasing information prematurely.

The Republicans in the state House are now blaming the Democrats for this debacle, even though the GOP was in power and had accepted contributions from DeNaples when the state's weak, lobbyist-written slots law was rammed through in the dead of night on July 2, 2004, with the help of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

Rendell has remained uncharacteristically quiet about the indictment of DeNaples - one of the governor's biggest political contributors - on charges that the billionaire Dunmore businessman lied to a Dauphin County grand jury about his connections to two Northeast Pennsylvania mob bosses and two friends of former Philadelphia Mayor John Street who were charged with corruption.

Two of the four men are dead, one is in prison and the other is under indictment.

The governor did, however, blast Philly's City Council on Wednesday - the same day DeNaples' indictment was unveiled - for showing "no guts" by failing to approve two proposed riverfront casinos.

On Saturday, Councilman Frank DiCicco returned fire, telling the Philadelphia Daily News, "If he (Rendell) wants to pander to the folks who have been contributing to him, and these are very wealthy people, that's his business. I'm not giving in and I hope my colleagues will continue to support me."

DeNaples, who has been barred from his own casino by the control board until at least a hearing on Tuesday, maintained his innocence in letters to the editor sent Friday to both the Times-Tribune of Scranton and The Morning Call of Allentown. In each, he said, " I reiterate that I am innocent, and I intend to prove my innocence in court."

He also apologized profusely for telling the control board's lawyers he wouldn't recognize Shamsud-din Ali and the late Ron White because "To me, all black people look alike." (A bug authorities planted in Ali's office as part of a City Hall corruption case proved to the grand jury the two had dealings.)

"I sincerely regret the pain I have caused anyone with my statement," says the letter from the 67-year-old auto parts dealer, landill owner and banker. "People who know me know that I believe deeply in the cause of racial diversity and minority participation on the job."

Yes, folks, we've begun that most painful of all dances - the Slotsylvania shuffle. Crank up the Polka music for this statewide blame game has only just begun.

Not that this fiasco wasn't easily predictable

On Oct. 17, 2005, Edwards, president of the troopers association, testified before the State Senate Law and Justice Committee that, "Leaving background checks to outside vendors simply creates another layer of bureaucracy, which can create weaknesses in the system, not to mention waste tax dollars. The State Police are the primary law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania. This duty should clearly be the department's responsibility.

"... Nothing should take a back seat to law enforcement," he added. "The gaming board and administration must show Pennsylvania is serious about preventing organized crime from infiltrating our gaming industry. Make no mistake, criminals will try everything they can to do just that. Outsourcing background checks will do nothing but weaken the oversight of an industry that has traditionally attracted organized crime and rampant corruption."

In 2006, DeNaples' direct competitor for one of the two free-standing slots parlor licenses available in the state was Greg Matzel, who applied for a license for Pocono Manor Resort & Casino in Monroe County and said that unlike DeNaples, neither he nor any other principal in the Pocono Manor project donated money to state lawmakers.

"It would be an absolute tragedy if politics trumped economic benefit and better judgment," Matzel told the Associated Press back then. "Clearly, we're concerned about any conflicts that may exist. We come with no strings attached. Clearly, there will be no public perception that there was any favoritism given to us if we are awarded the license."

This being Pennsylvania, naturally Pocono Manor didn't win.

Its investors sent a letter to the gaming board Friday calling its decision "a gross miscarriage of justice" and demanding a license for their casino.


For more about Louis DeNaples and to read my complete take on this long-predicted Slotsylvania snafu, click here.

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