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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Posted 9:24 PM by

Preaching to the wrong choir in Slotsylvania

State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola.To state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, slot machine gambling preys on the poor, breeds destructive behavior and hurts local economies.

So, that's what the Republican from Dauphin County told leaders in the industry while delivering the keynote address today at the 4th annual Pennsylvania Gaming Congress & Mid-Atlantic Racing Forum in Harrisburg.

An outspoken critic of the state law legalizing slot machines in Pennsylvania, Piccola was chosen after Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins withdrew in protest to the event's sponsor, Spectrum Gaming Group of New Jersey.

Fred Gushin, CEO of Spectrum, told The Morning Call of Allentown last year that the control board's licensing of applicants was "an overtly political process instead of an exercise in regulatory control. It was a disaster in the making."

And Piccola hammered that point home to the casino operators and suppliers today, saying, "The process is inherently flawed if the staff that you are relying on for accurate information does not have direct access to the information that it so desperately needs."

He was referring to privately hired investigators who did the background check on now-indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples, but never named him specifically.

The investigators believed DeNaples lied about his relationship with reputed mob boss Billy D'Elia, but couldn't prove it. They alerted the state police, who began investigating DeNaples, but did not tell the board. Nor did the board subpoena D'Elia before issuing a license to DeNaples on Dec. 21, 2006.

DeNaples maintains his innocence. "The facts are that the (bureau) and the board investigated Mr. DeNaples for nearly 2,000 hours before finding him suitable for a license," DeNaples spokesman Kevin Feeley told the Citizens Voice on Monday. "Now after the fact, it's become fashionable to use Mr. DeNaples as a scapegoat."

But Piccola told the crowd of about 100 today, "I'm here to tell you that a legislative response to this present controversy is inevitable. Many of you are going to pay the price if we don't do it over."

Among other proposed reforms, Piccola wants to put the state Attorney General's office in charge of licensing applicants so that office can utilize information in law enforcement hands.

To see a video of his speech in Windows Media Player, click here.


The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority decided two weeks ago to suspend loans made outside the state through the Federal Family Education Loan Program, but didn't announce it until this afternoon.

The agency will soon send out notices to colleges and universities that it will suspend in-state loans effective March 7, acting president and chief executive officer James Preston told lawmakers.

"Right now, it's not profitable for us at all to finance (FFELP) loans," Preston told a House committee during a hearing on the agency's budget. He cited the subprime mortgage mess and chaos in the bond market for making the loans too expensive.

Instead, the agency will steer prospective borrowers to banks that are still participating in the $50 billion program. PHEAA provides federally subsidized, low-cost student loans to about 500,000 Pennsylvania students annually.

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Monday, February 25, 2008
Posted 10:04 PM by

Never assume anything in Slotsylvania

Billy D'EliaHe may be bound by Omerta not to rat on other made guys, but reputed Northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Billy D'Elia would have gladly sung like a canary about his long-time friendship with now-indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

But nobody - certainly not the Slotsylvania Gaming Control Board - ever subpoenaed him, D'Elia's attorney, James Swetz of Stroudsburg, has told The Morning Call of Allentown.

"He would have testified and he would have answered any questions truthfully that were posed to him about whether or not he knew Mr. DeNaples, and Bill has known him for 30 years," Swetz said.

Tad Decker, the out-of-control board's former chairman, said the regulators could have used their weak subpoena power to compel D'Elia's testimony, without the ability to grant immunity, "But we were told he would come and take the Fifth and he wouldn't testify."

He declined to tell the newspaper who told the board that.

Swetz said neither he nor his client did. "With all due respect to Mr. Decker, he may have assumed that Mr. D'Elia wouldn't testify, but he certainly never asked me that. And if he had, the answer may have surprised him."

It's partly because of his alleged relationship with D'Elia that DeNaples, a Dunmore billionaire, has been indicted for perjury for lying to the gaming board. DeNaples told both the board and a Dauphin County grand jury that he only knew D'Elia as "a guy from the neighborhood" who shopped at his auto parts store.

But Swetz said, "Mr. D'Elia's association with Louis DeNaples is not simply from across the auto parts counter, as Mr. DeNaples has stated. They've known each other for a long time."

D'Elia, who is in federal custody awaiting trial on charges of money laundering and conspiring to kill a witness, told the grand jury he had close ties to DeNaples as a friend and business associate. He said he frequently met with DeNaples at his private office at DeNaples Auto Parts in Dunmore and that DeNaples was a guest at the 1999 wedding of D'Elia's daughter.

Had D'Elia told gaming board investigators that, the board would not have issued DeNaples a slots license, Decker said. "Absolutely not."

Private investigators performing a background check on DeNaples for the board did ask to interview D'Elia, but Swetz said he directed them to federal prosecutors in Harrisburg and then never heard from the Gaming Control Board again.

So much for due diligence and the board's current theory that the state police's refusal to share criminal information is to blame for this mess.

In other Slotsylvania news:

  • Mafia book author Charles Brandt, who has read the grand jury presentments against DeNaples, told The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre that Dauphin County prosecutors may have a hard time proving their perjury case. "I found the questions inartfully crafted, and they left lots of wiggle room," Brandt said.

  • DeNaples' spokesman, Philly PR guy Kevin Feeley, was profiled in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Among the other clients he's trying to spin is the city tax board which lost the file on Sen. Vince Fumo's $6 million mansion.

  • Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, the sole candidate to file for the Democratic party's nomination for state Attorney General, has begun to attack Republican incumbent Tom Corbett for accepting at least $35,000 in campaign contributions from DeNaples.

  • The Morning Call has caught on to my idea that state Rep. Harold James (D-Philadelphia) is purposely dragging his feet and refusing to bring any slots reform bills up for a vote in the House Gaming Oversight Committee he chairs.

  • Two of the bills the Oversight Committee has pigeonholed, H.B. 1715 and H.B. 1975, would require $1.5 million to $3.5 million from the state's rake of slots gambling be used to treat gambling addicts. Gaming Board Chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins testified last week that already 200 people across the state have excluded themselves from the state's seven open slots parlors. One of them is likely a woman who gambled away $573,000 at a Harrah's Chester Casino. She is now cited as a statistic in Casino-Free Philadelphia's Operation Hidden Costs, an anti-casino study it plans to unveil Wednesday.


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

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Posted 7:32 PM by

Slotsylvania Gaming Board chair put on the spot

Gaming Control Board chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo ColinsI'm going to make this quick tonight because I want to watch the Pennsylvania Cable Network's rebroadcast of a state House Appropriations committee hearing for the Gaming Control Board at 8 p.m.

Ok, I'm an obsessed geek and this sounds like a real yawner, huh?

But wait, this morning's hearing reportedly turned into a raucous pissing match between the state's gambling regulators and the state police over who is to blame for the slots parlor license given to indicted Dunmore billionaire Louis DeNaples.

The Associated Press called it "a noisy debate" right in its lede this afternoon.

I call it must-see TV and even plan to record it. (I wonder if I'll get sued if I put it on YouTube?)

The AP reports that Gaming Control Board chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins told lawmakers that the state police had no legal reason to stay silent about their perjury investigation into DeNaples.

"I believe we did everything a regulatory agency could do," Colins said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We believed we had everything we needed."

Don't have PCN on your cable lineup. No worries, you can watch a streaming rebroadcast on PCN's Web site at 8 p.m. so long as you have Apple's QuickTime program.

In other racino and slots news, the Pennsyltucky Politics blog bashes Gov. Ed Rendell - not for failing to show up at none of the openings of the state's seven slots parlors, as state Rep. Paul Clymer takes Rendell to task for - but for treating his fellow Slotsylvanians with utter disdain.

It's time for Fast Eddie to open his mouth and switch feet."These are people who lead very gray lives," Rendell said of the senior citizens who flock to casinos in a 2006 interview with the Lancaster New Era, the Patriot-News' Brett Lieberman writes.

"They don't see their sons and daughters very much. They don't have much social interaction," Rendell said. "There's not a whole lot of good things that happen in their month. But if you put them on the bus, they're excited. They're happy. They have fun. They see bright lights. They hear music. They pull that slot machine and with each pull they think they have a chance to win... . It's unbelievable what brightness and cheer it brings to older Pennsylvanians. Unbelievable."

Unbelievable is right.

Or as Clymer (R-Bucks) wrote last week in a letter to the editor, "In his first term, Gov. Rendell aggressively promoted the social and economic benefits of this dubious industry. Property tax relief for all was his standard cry. When the General Assembly passed the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act in the midnight hours of July 4, 2004, Gov. Rendell made a beeline for Philadelphia Park (Bensalem, PA) to sign the bill into law legalizing up to 61,000 slot machines.

"Now, he cannot be found at any grand opening. Is it too much to question his whereabouts? It seems to me that Gov. Rendell has shunned the casino crowd."

Too bad he didn't shun DeNaples' political contributions too, but that's another story.


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

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Friday, February 15, 2008
Posted 8:44 PM by

Three for follow-up Friday

I hope this will become a continuing feature on The Daily Rant on Fridays, so I can empty my mind and my notebook of some incremental changes in stories I'm following.

Tad Decker finally gets it!

Tad DeckerIn a letter to the editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday, former Slotsylvania Gaming Board Chairman Tad Decker once again blames the state police for failing to turn over a transcript of an FBI wiretap before he and others unanimously approved a license for now-indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

"By letter of Dec. 20, 2006, state police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey Miller advised the board that it was in a position to determine the suitability of all applicants, including Louis DeNaples, even though the state police now admit it knew at the time this statement was untrue," Decker wrote. "The state police's misrepresentation violated the act and its agreements with the board and the governor's office and did a terrible disservice to the commonwealth's citizens."

Decker later told the Associated Press, "Because of what (the state police) did, it was an embarrassment of issuing a license to someone who potentially - potentially - may have done something wrong in the process."

DeNaples now faces eight counts of perjury after a Dauphin County grand jury found that he lied to both them and the gaming board about his alleged ties to organized crime.

"Their own agents thought he was lying," Bruce Edwards, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, shot back in an article in today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Personally, I don't care what the state police letter said or about its pissing match with the control board, which hired private investigators instead of letting troopers handle the background investigations of slots parlor license applicants.

There was plenty of anecdotal evidence in the public domain (namely DeNaples' 1976 federal felony and his name appearing in Pennsylvania Crime Commission reports) tying DeNaples to reputed and indicted Northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Billy D'Elia. DeNaples also gave at least $115,000 in political contributions to Decker's "close friend," Gov. Ed Rendell.

That alone should have given Decker and the rest of the board pause before they embarrassed the state.

By the way, it was Rendell who appointed Decker, a Philadelphia attorney, to both the board and the chairmanship and it was Rendell who later defended him against allegations that Decker too had a conflict of interest with another slots parlor applicant.

In other Slotsylvania casino news:

  • New Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters Friday that his city budget does not count on any revenue from any of the seven slots parlots now operating within the state.

    "We know it's out there," Nutter said. "It's not in our pocket so we're not counting it."

    That's prudent plannning Mr. Mayor and I applaud you for it, even though part of that money is supposed to be used eventually to lower Philly's wage tax.

  • State Senator Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin County) will deliver the keynote address at the 4th annual Pennsylvania Gaming Congress & Mid-Atlantic Racing Forum, February 25-26 at the Whitaker Center and Harrisburg Hilton.

    Piccola, a member of the senate's Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, unsuccessfully threatened to shut down the state amid budget talks last year while trying to reform the slots parlor law.

    Mary DiGiacomo ColinsGaming Board Chairwoman and former Philly judge Mary DiGiacomo Colins was supposed to deliver that address. However, she withdrew after the CEO of the event's sponsor, Fred Gushin of Spectrum Gaming Group of New Jersey, openly criticized the board's licensing process.

    Gushin told The Morning Call of Allentown in September that the control board's licensing of applicants was "an overtly political process instead of an exercise in regulatory control. It was a disaster in the making."

  • Monthly casino revenue was down 10 percent in January in Atlantic City, marking the 12th month out of the last 13 that revenues have fallen, the Associated Press reported this week. Last year was the first in the 30-year history of A.C. casino gambling that revenues decreased from the previous year.

N.J. student loan agency gets a monitor, freespending PHEAA doesn't.

New Jersey Attorney General Ann Milgram has appointed an independent monitor to watchover the state's Higher Education Student Assistance Authority after a state investigation found troublesome lending practices, including the steering of students to Sallie Mae loans.

HESAA and 41 New Jersey colleges have also agreed that their financial aid officers will no longer take gifts from loan companies. Milgram said gifts in the past have given some lenders an unfair inside track.

No one knows if that is happening across the river, but we may know by June when state Auditor Gener Jack Wagner is expected to complete his first-ever audit of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority.

PHEAA has spent millions over the years rewarding its executives with hefty bonuses, expensive trips for its lawmaker-dominated board and even renting all of HersheyPark for a day. Yet, despite Rendell calling it "a disaster" and threatening to privatize the authority, only internal changes have been made.

Pink pig dreams deflated.

Gene StilpGovernment reform activist Gene Stilp, who became famous for floating a giant inflatable pink pig in Harrisburg after the 2005 legislative pay raise, has ended his candidacy for the 104th state House seat in Dauphin County, citing personal reasons.

Last Friday, Stilp, 57, of Middle Paxton Township, said "emerging family health issues" would keep him from devoting the necessary time to his campaign to unseat incumbent state Rep. Sue Helm.

My thoughts are with him and his family.

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