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Thursday, February 28, 2008
Posted 10:24 PM by

The Slotsylvania gambling 'reform' panacea

How should Slotsylvania be reformed in the wake of the Louis DeNaples scandal?Like many other newspapers across the state, The Altoona Mirror came out today in support of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board transferring background investigations of potential slots parlor owners to the state police in the wake of perjury charges against slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

Although DeNaples denies any wongdoing, Dauphin County prosecutors allege he lied to the gambling board about his alleged ties with two reputed mobsters and two Philadelphia political fixers.

"Chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins recently told lawmakers unless a change occurs the same situation could happen again," the Mirror's editorial says. "We agree, but we disagree with Colins on the cure. Colins wants state police to give gambling regulators a heads-up when they have a potential licensee under investigation without providing details. A better solution is to hand over the duty of doing background checks to a police agency, rather than a regulatory one, such as the Gaming Control Board."

While I agree with the Mirror somewhat, I'm adamant that transferring the preliminary probe of a slots parlor applicant is no cure.

And if that's the only "reform" that happens now that the Dunmore billionaire has been indicted, it won't even be a sugar pill, just a bitter one we'll all have to swallow later.

The 2004 law legalizing slot machine gambling is inherently flawed. How could it not be since it was illegally rushed into existence and passed on the eve of the July 4 holiday without any public debate - all in the name of property tax relief that most homeowners in the state now won't receive?

The law:

  • Does not require the gaming board to hold all applications hearings and its deliberations in public view.

  • Does not outlaw lobbying by gambling interests, only direct campaign contributions. It's still legal for a slots parlor owner to hand money to a lobbyist who donates it to a lawmaker. Last year, DeNaples spent $67,375 last year lobbying, state records show. However, the state's lobbying disclosure law doesn't require him to say which lawmakers benefited from it.

  • Does not require that some of the state's $1 billion rake from slots gambling be used to treat gambling addiction, even though Colins told lawmakers that more than 200 citizens across Pennsylvania have already been "self-excluded" from the state's seven operating slots parlors. One is likely a woman who gambled away $573,000 at Harrah's Chester Casino.

No one can convince me that one provision in the 2004 slots law wasn't specifically designed to make sure DeNaples got his license in December 2006. Why else would the legislators have specified anyone with a felony older than 15 years can have a license? DeNaples admitted to a federal felony in 1978.

Ask yourself this: If lawmakers were serious about keeping criminals out of the casinos, why would they let any felon have a license?

Of course, Pennsylvania's other laws are so lax that while a felon must wait five years after his conviction before he can vote again, there are no laws barring the same felon from making campaign contributions or lobbying lawmakers while he waits.

It would be ironic if state Attoney General Tom Corbett ends up in charge of doing the background checks, as some lawmakers want, considering it would put him in the same potential position a disgraced predecessor in the post faced.

In 1995, then-Attorney General Ernie Preate Jr. went to jail for 14 months on mail fraud charges stemming from $40,000 in campaign contributions he solicited from illegal video poker machine operators and failed to report. He later failed to seek the maximum criminal penalties against distributors of illegal video poker games because some of them had contributed to his campaign.

Then-Gov. Tom Ridge asked Corbett to fill out Preate's remaining term. He was later elected to the post in November 2004 in a close election by a two-percentage point margin, a biography Web page says.

One of those who helped fund Corbett's 2004 campaign was DeNaples, who contributed at least $35,000 to the top prosecutor through two of the many businesses he owns.

I say at least because state campaign records are so incomplete and so shoddily disclosed, that's it's nearly impossible to track a total dollar amount. I do know DeNaples contributed at least $679,375 to possibly more than $1 million to the campaigns of Corbett, Gov. Ed Rendell, legislative leaders and judges between 2000 and 2004.

Has Corbett been swayed by the money?

Let's put it this way, although prosecuting DeNaples might have represented a conflict of interest for him, Corbett says he let the Dauphin County District Attorney prosecute him because he was already investigating other gambling-related matters.

Meanwhile, Friday makes it exactly two years to the day since Corbett announced the formation of a seven-attorney unit to investigate gambling-related corruption allegations involving elected officials. However, the group has not made a single major prosecution for anything gambling-related.

Yet, Corbett said on Feb. 28, 2006, "By creating a Public Corruption Unit, the Attorney General's Office is putting a spotlight on investigating and prosecuting public corruption cases at a crucial time in our state's history when slot machines and casino gaming is about to become reality."


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

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