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Friday, February 01, 2008
Posted 11:17 PM by

Gravy train wrecks in Slotsylvania

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell led the gravy train of campaign contributions from indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples, but lots of other lawmakers, judges and politicians hitched their wagons up too.You have to hand it to lame-duck Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. He sure knows how to play both sides.

First, he took at least $115,000 from Louis DeNaples in campaign contributions, even though the billionaire Dunmore businessman was clearly seeking to legalize slots gambling in the state and wanted a license.

Now, he's applauding the Gaming Control Board's decision to suspend DeNaples' license two days after the slots parlor owner was indicted on perjury charges for allegedly lying about his mob ties.

Will Fast Eddie give back the cash any time soon? I think not. As one reporter covering this story told me today, DeNaples is still innocent until proven guilty - no matter what a Dauphin County grand jury believes.

However, Rendell is taking notice of the grand jury's recommendations for improving gambling oversight, Chuck Ardo, the governor's spokesman, told The Times-Tribune of Scranton.

Among their very obvious suggestions:

  • DeNaples should forfeit his $50 million license fee and the Gaming Control Board should immediately suspend his gambling license and then question him about his ties to the four criminal figures named in the presentment. (A public hearing by the board on whether to continue the suspension is scheduled for Tuesday morning, even though at least board member Ray Angeli has some ties to DeNaples, according to the Times-Leader of Wilkes-Barre)

  • The General Assembly should require all portions of the slots casino application process relating to the character and integrity of license applicants be open to the public. (Unlike New Jersey's casino application process, Pennsylvania's board held two closed door hearings with DeNaples, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

  • The General Assembly should consider placing the control board's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general. (Oops, State Attorney General Tom Corbett accepted at least $35,000 in campaign contributions from DeNaples.)

"The fiasco surrounding the DeNaples license is a national embarrassment for Pennsylvania," Bruce Edwards, a state police sergeant serving as head of the 4,300-member Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, said in a letter to newspapers Friday including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Edwards also wrote that the board shouldn't have approved DeNaples' license in December 2006 if its investigators had doubts about DeNaples' veracity.

Gambing Board agents Roger Greenback and John Meighan clearly had doubts, Dauphin County District Attorney Edward Marsico told The Times-Tribune.

"Agents Greenback and Meighan believed that DeNaples was lying about his background," Marsico said. "They simply could not prove those lies by competent evidence with the information to which they had access."

That's because the hiring of private investigators to do the digging pissed off the state police, who decried the outsourcing then refused to open their ongoing case file agaist DeNaples to the gaming board claiming it would be a violation of state law to release the information to private citizens. A lawsuit over the turf war is still pending.

"How can you have the same agency in charge of licensing and investigating?" a New Jersey gaming official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the pending case, told the Inquirer. "How do you get a fair and impartial hearing when the investigators are employees of the agency in charge of issuing the license?"

Editorial writers across Pennsylvania are finally starting to take notice of the wreckage, if not the runaway campaign contributions gravy train buried in the debris.

The Allentown Morning Call said Friday, "The case presented in Dauphin County also is an indictment of state government for failing to create better guarantees that in this state, the gambling industry would be free of corruption. And, this blame must be spread broadly - to Gov. Ed Rendell, who supported the creation of the Gaming Control Board in its present form and supported Mr. DeNaples' license; to the legislators who passed the gaming law; and to the gaming staff and board, who defended the status quo even as its flaws became apparent."

The Times-Tribune noted, "It's not yet clear how the Legislature, the Rendell administration and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will answer for the state government's dismal failure to ensure the integrity of the gambling industry. ...It's not the licensing process that is supposed to be the gamble."

The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre blasted the board's argument that its quasi-judicial function shielded its integrity hearings with slots parlor owners from the state's Sunshine Law. "Public scrutiny of DeNaples' testimony might have prevented the public spectacle we now see in his perjury case."

Meanwhile, state House Republicans see an opportunity to make a little hay at the expense of Democrats.

"Due to the lack of attentiveness by the Democrat chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, House Republicans have taken on the issue of bringing integrity and transparency to Pennsylvania's new gaming industry," a press release issued Friday says.

Several GOP leaders plan a press conference Monday to "discuss pending legislation to reform the background check process and announce future hearings aimed to strengthen the public’s confidence in the state's gaming process."

There's only one flaw in their logic.

DeNaples gave at least $679,375 and possibly more than $1 million to candidates on both side of the aisle over the years - including at least $41,200 to the House Republican Campaign Committee.


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

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