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Sunday, February 10, 2008
Posted 10:34 PM by

Six degrees of Louis DeNaples

Can you connect Louis DeNaples to Pennsylvania's top officials using only state records? Few can.Anybody who reads my blog on a regular basis has heard me rant that indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples gave at least $115,000 in political contributions to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, and that his honor has given none of the money back.

Today I learned of another connection between the Dunmore billionaire and the state's top politician which has nothing to do with money. That's the man who, for years now ,has put words in each of their mouths and tried to shape their public image.

Attorney Kevin Feeley, DeNaples' hired spokesman, used to be an adviser and press secretary for Rendell during Big Ed's two terms as Philly mayor.

Yeah, I know, they shared the same flack, big deal.

But when you think about it, the connections between DeNaples and Rendell suddenly seem far more than just a rich donor and a rising political star, and a lot less coincidental and deniable.

Remember, it's DeNaples' denial of alleged relationships with two reputed mob bosses and two corrupt Philadelphia political fixers that now have him defending eight charges that he lied to both the state Gaming Control Board and a Dauphin County grand jury.

Let me be clear, I'm not alleging anything. It's Feeley's job to defend his boss to the press, no matter who that boss is. I'm just saying the ties seem a might cozy.

Given the shoddy public disclosure of campaign finances in this state, combined with the utter sham of lobbying "reform" which left the public no way of knowing who gave what to whom and why, some times these Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon games bear fruit when looking for an explanation on why things happen around here.

Rendell's not alone in taking money from DeNaples.

Between 2000 and 2004, the auto parts dealer, landfill owner and banker either personally or through one of his many companies contributed at least $679,375 and possibly more than $1 million to state lawmakers, judges and even its top prosecutor with seemingly little regard to their party affiliation.

As far as I know, only one state official, former state Rep. David "Chip" Brightbill, returned the money he received. And the public show Brightbill made of giving back that $20,000 didn't save him from being trounced at the polls.

As it turned out, Brightbill had to return the money or face criminal charges because DeNaples gave it to him after the state law legalizing slot machine gambling was enacted in 2004 and outlawed such contributions.


By the way, Brightbill voted against the slots law.

Since then, there has been no legal limitation on what paid lobbyists can contribute to lawmakers for their votes or to block legislation. Perhaps that's why one proposal to cut off the lobbying spigot of gambling interests, Senate Bill 658, hasn't budged in a year.

While such regulatory efforts and attempts to rein in the out of control board remain at a standstill, the juggernaut that is legalized gambling in this state continues unabated.

On Tuesday, the state's newest slots parlor - their not casinos yet - will open as Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, despite the DeNaples debacle.

I assume the owners didn't want the hassle of changing its name when House Bill 2121, which would legalize table games, finally makes it out of committee. It's being pushed by House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese and my guess is it will see moonlight sometime between July 2 and July 4, because that's how both the slots law and the 2005 legislative pay raise were rammed into law and down the public's throat.

Public outrage forced a repeal of the pay raise less than a year later. Nothing short of a lynch mob might stop gambling in Slotsylvania.

I'd start watching for sales on rope and effigy dummies, though.

After Rendell's plan for property tax reform failed miserably last year, it looks like his new plan to use all $1 billion annually in state slots revenue to eliminate property taxes for poor seniors only - then jack up sales and income tax rates for the rest of us - will eventually become law.

Just who are all these "tourists" plunking quarters and silver dollars into noisy machines to the state's benefit?

They're your neighors. Most are the same folks who previously had to take at least a two-hour bus ride to Atlantic City, N.J., to gamble. (Yet, a bill to spend a paltry $3.5 million of the state's new largesse on curbing problem gambling has been pigeonholed in commmittee since October.)

Believe me when I say A.C. misses them - well, their money at least - and so do New Jersey lawmakers. The Assembly is now betting on a long shot that it can overturn federal law and add sports book betting to their casinos in order to lure some Pennsylvanians back.

Given the way Congress put the hammer down on Internet betting in 2006, despite the potential for huge federal tax revenue, you have to at least admire their courage.

Now if only the Feds would expand their wiretapping investigation of a single slots parlor owner to the politicians he - and who knows how many others - have given money to, I might feel a bit better. But probably not.


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

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