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

Friday, February 08, 2008
Posted 8:02 PM by

Gaming Board's justification: Public perception

Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins is more worried about public perception, than the reality that her board licensed a felon with alleged mob ties.To the head of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the justification for barring indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples from his own Poconos casino, escrowing his share of the profit and appointing a trustee it selected in secret to run the facility boils down to one thing: Public perception.

"The integrity of gaming and the public perception thereof, justifies a suspension of DeNaples' principal license in this instance," the board says in a 13-page opinion posted online Thursday and signed by its chairwoman, former Philly judge Mary DiGiacomo Colins. "The indictment, especially for falsifying testimony to this Board in his effort to obtain a slot machine license, undermines public confidence in the integrity of the board's regulation of gambling."

Actually, I think Slotsylvania's out-of-control board did a pretty good job of that all by itself.

Although there was plenty of anecdotal evidence in the public record - including reports from the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission - of alleged ties between DeNaples and reputed mob figures going back decades, not to mention that the Dunmore billionaire is a former federal felon, the board choose to give him a license anyway after its own privately hired investigators failed to turn up any proof.

DeNaples denies any wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty to the four perjury charges he now faces.

But as Bruce Edwards, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, said in a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Daily News this week, "In preparing to award the first-ever state licenses in a competitive process for an industry that has always suffered from organized-crime undertones, it is confounding as to why the PGCB would not take every imaginable step to ensure that its process was above reproach.

"If DeNaples truly was the best candidate, it would still seem to be the prudent course to delay the award to make sure all the facts were known," Edwards wrote. "Despite the failure to do just that, and the DeNaples indictment, the board's executive director, Anne Neeb, curiously defended the process, proudly boasting, 'The system is working perfectly.'"

The question to ask now is, for whom?

The control board has performed much of its functions behind closed doors - ignoring and possibly violating the state's Sunshine Law - leaving the public to wonder whether DeNaples' political contributions of at least $679,375 and possibly more than $1 million to the state's top officials between 2000 and 2004 played a major factor in the board's initial licensing decision.

And although the 2004 law legalizing slot machines and forming the control board barred further direct political contributions from gambling interests, the board has ruled that they can continue to lobby state legislators.

Given Slotsylvania's poor public disclosure of political contributions and weak lobbying reporting laws, the public now has almost no way of knowing who is trying to sway lawmakers into expanding gambling to include blackjack, roulette, craps and possibly riverboat gambling.

That isn't a problem of public perception, as Colins claims. It's a perversion of public trust.

TOMORROW: I'll look at some legislative measures that might fix both the broken gaming board and Slotsylvania's casino system - if they can ever come up for a vote.


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

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