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

Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Posted 10:29 PM by

Pa. regulators have slots of explaining to do

Bowing to public pressure, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will post on its Web site the names and percentages of potential slots parlor owners, but is still hiding most information from the public.Is the public getting hosed in Pennsylvania's quest to become one of the biggest states, if not the biggest, to offer legalized gambling? We might find out one of the key pieces to the puzzle soon.

That's because the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reversed its decision and will reveal who will own 14 potential slots parlors/casinos and what stake in the winnings each person stands to get.

Bizarrely, this information will even be posted on the board's Web site, even though not much else pertaining to the license applications has been. Curious citizens are required to go to the board's Harrisburg office if they want to look at them.

"The board will continue to balance its obligation to follow the strict confidentiality requirements of the gaming act with its obligation to conduct an open and transparent licensing process," Chairman Tad Decker told the Associated Press today. "This will ensure that the public has confidence in the gaming industry and in the agency that oversees this industry."

No, only doing the process in full view of the public would do that. Cloaking everything under a confidentiality clause only heightens our suspicions we're getting screwed.

"This is a learning process for everyone, but fundamentally the board has to understand and adopt more proactively a policy that leans on the side of having the records open," said Christopher Craig, a lawyer for state Senator Vince Fumo.

Fumo, a slots proponent, held up passage of this year's state budget to push for gambling reform legislation and is still trying to get bills out of committee.

Meanwhile, one of the leading groups that helped secure last year's repeal of a legislative pay hike, Democracy Rising Pa. headed by taxpayer advocate Tim Potts, has added its voice to the growing number of Pennsylvanians who want the law legalizing slot machines repealed.

"Our concern is, and always has been, that lawmakers violated the Constitution when they passed the law in the dead of night on the 4th of July weekend in 2004," Potts wrote in the group's latest newsletter. "They gutted a two-page bill and replaced every word with 146 pages of new language. Because there were no public hearings on the final version, ordinary citizens never had the chance to see it until it was too late."

I've been saying the same thing for two years.

To see a complete list of who voted for the slots law, click here.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Posted 11:22 PM by

Law and disorder day in the Delaware Valley

Voters want paper proof their ballots count, not plastic promises. Lapdances and stripping isn't lewd, a federal court found. New hispanics in Hazleton are being discriminated against, a lawsuit argues. And New Jersey lost its attorney general today due to her own stupidity.Here we go again folks.

Voter Action, a nonprofit group advocating election integrity, sued election officials in Pennsylvania today seeking to have electronic voting machines decertified in 58 of the state's 67 counties.

The group argues that the state should replace paperless machines with systems where voters fill in bubbles on paper forms which are counted by scanning machines.

Without such a paper record, "There is no possible way to prove that a vote count has been faulty," plaintiff Stephen J. Strahs, a voter in Montgomery County, told the Associated Press.

Likewise, "Pennsylvania voters should not have to take it on faith that these new machines work," fellow plaintiff Regina Schlitz of Bucks County is quoted as saying in a Voter Action press release.

Six similar lawsuits were filed earlier this year, arguing that the state Constitution requires that any change in voting machines must first be approved by a ballot question.

Each was dismissed after the counties argued that they stood to lose millions of dollars in federal grant money if they didn't change machines before the May 16 primary.

The last case went all the way to the state Supreme Court. On March 2, the justices issued a two-paragraph decision overturning a Commonwealth Court ruling that declared the change unconstitutional. The final ruling required all counties to change to new machines prior to the primary.

The high court promised to file a full opinion later justifying its decision. But to date, more than five months later, no explanation has been given.

Speaking of unjustifiable positions, Hazleton was sued today by a bunch of Latino groups arguing that the city's new ordinance against illegal immigrants is itself illegal.

Mayor Lou Barletta made a national name for himself last month when he pushed into passage the ordinance which imposed $1,000 fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, denied business permits to companies that give them jobs and made English the city's official language.

Having actually worked in Hazleton for a time, let me just say Barletta and the city fathers should be thankful their dying former coal town is growing at all.

Heyna or no, they should be welcoming these new residents, helping them become citizens so they can start paying taxes, and leave immigration matters to the feds who are supposed to enforce them.

On the lighter side of the law, lapdances might not qualify as "lewd behavior" punishable by Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Enforcement Bureau, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

Exotic dance club Club Risque on Philadelphia's Delaware Avenue sued the state police in 2001 from enforcing that portion of the law, arguing it unconstitutionally violated two dancers' freedom of speech.

Under the state's liquor control code, offenders could be convicted of a misdemeanor that carries a $5,000 fine and up to a year imprisonment, along with the loss of their liquor license for violating the statute.

"We conclude that the Challenged Provisions "punish[] a 'substantial' amount of protected free speech, 'judged in relation to [their] plainly legitimate sweep,' and that they are therefore unconstitutionally overbroad," Judge Julio M. Fuentes wrote in a ruling by a three judge panel.

However, Fuentes was apparently doing some dancing of her own. Last month, she upheld a New Jersey law on lewd behavior at liquor establishments, saying it was not unconstitutionally vague.

Meanwhile, New Jersey now has a new top prosecutor due to the resignation today of Attorney General Zulima Farber.

Farber was forced to step down from office after a special prosecutor released a report saying she violated state ethics laws by going to the scene of her boyfriend's traffic stop in May and allowing police to give him preferential treatment.

It wasn't the first time she ran afoul of the law, either.

Farber had been considered for an appointment to the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2003. But when it became public that a bench warrant had been issued over an unpaid traffic ticket, former Gov. James McGreevey dropped her from the nomination.

She should have moved to Pennsylvania, where adherence to the law is apparently not a prerequisite.


Monday, August 14, 2006
Posted 10:41 PM by

Slots of secrets kept by Pa. regulators

If the Gaming Control Board won't spell out who stands to gain from owning a slot machine parlor and by how much, how are Pennsylvanians to trust the entire process of licensing them?Pennsylvania's Gaming Control Board refuses to say what share each potential owner of the state's 14 slot machine parlors stands to gain if granted a license.

And in a bizarre move, the regulators claim the 2004 state law that legalized slots gambling prohibits them from releasing that information, which could prove key in determining whether the public is being hosed.

"The statute has a fairly strict confidentiality requirement in it and the board is following the statute," gaming board spokesman Nick Hays told the Associated Press.

But Christopher Craig, a lawyer for state Senator Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, said he doesn't understand the board's reluctance to spell out how big a stake new slot parlor owners will have.

"It has to be really related to some kind of business plan or trade secret that would otherwise be damaging if it were disclosed publicly," Craig said "I wouldn't know how ... by making that public harms the business model and plans of the applicant."

This isn't the only key piece of information the PGCB is playing hide and seek with either.

The agency refuses to post application information on the Internet and will only release it to the public if they come into its Harrisburg office.

Nevertheless, fear of the unknown has not stopped Pennsylvania's politicians from spending the cash their governments plan to gain from hosting casinos.

Gettysburg Council voted 5-4 tonight to accept $1 million a year in budgetary help for the borough, whose budget is currently $4 million annually, if Crossroads Gaming Resort and Spa LP is granted a slots license.

I don't think they quite get the notion that this is vulture culture. I'm willing to bet a decade from now $1 million a year will not even come close to pay for the added government services needed to deal with the effects of gambling - everything from increased police and addictions counseling, to urban blight.

They need only look at Atlantic City for a glimpse of their future.


Sunday, August 13, 2006
Posted 11:59 AM by

Orb it or pay $200

Want to see video/audio files and even live tv from your home computer or your work computer or cell phone, give's free service a try.Sorry I haven't written sooner. I've spent the evening knee-deep in port configurations, firewall settings, router forwarding and other geek-type stuff.

But it sure beats paying $200 to buy one of a newfangled Slingbox.

You've probably seen the ad, which promises to put your local TV at your disposal anywhere in the world via the Internet.

Not a necessity, to be sure. But kind of cool.

My resistance to it is all about the Benjamins. I just couldn't bring myself to shell out that kind of money for a device with no real practical applications - other than to help me waste more time.

Instead, as usual, I found the poor man's way out. I tried's free streaming software instead.

It's an interesting program to be sure, allowing you to scour your home computer's harddrive for media files and then "stream" them using your broadband connection and RealMedia/Windows Media Player to any other computer in the world you might be it.

And if you have a TV tuner card installed on your home machine, you can watch your local channels from anywhere.

That is, as long as your firewall, home network router and proxy settings are set up to handle it. Mine weren't and it took hours of messing around with them to get it to work.

I danced a little jig in my office this morning when my RealPlayer popped up to show the copy of the movie "Bladerunner" I ripped from my DVD months ago.

This isn't a perfect solution to be sure.

For one thing, I still haven't gotten past proxy server errors to make it work with Windows Media Player.

And as with all streaming video, the image in RealPlayer can sometimes get herky jerky depending on the traffic in your work network.

The Slingbox sure seems pretty cool, but its $200 price puts me off.But it should provide an interesting diversion when I finally get a cell phone capable of surfing the web.

Who knows, someday I may no longer mind waiting in line for things.


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