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

Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Posted 10:28 PM by

Spinning the wheels of injustice in Slotsylvania

Is further gambling expansion in Slotsylvania 'inevitable'?I couldn't resist writing that headline after reading today's editorial in the Towanda Daily Review, which calls Pennsylvania's slots parlor licensing system "a game of chance in terms of reliability and integrity" because of the Louis DeNaples mess.

"The scandalous failure of several state agencies to cooperate, as the Gaming Control Board considered Dunmore businessman Louis DeNaples' application to operate the Mount Airy Casino Resort, must be the last such breach of the public trust."

I'll go that paper one step further and say it should never have happened in the first place.

It wouldn't have, had state law had prevented the billionaire from buying more than $1.1 million worth of influence among the state's top politicians despite his admitted federal felony in 1978.

Gov. Ed Rendell accepted at least $115,000 and state Attorney General Tom Corbett took at least $35,000 from DeNaples in campaign contributions. Neither will give it back now that DeNaples has been indicted for perjury.

A Dauphin County grand jury found he lied to the state Gaming Control Board during his closed-door licensing hearing about his relationship with two reputed mob bosses and two corrupt political fixers. DeNaples has denied any wrongdoing, but has been barred from his own casino pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Republican lawmakers, who are in the minority in the state House, have started a call for reforming the state's four-year-old law legalizing slot machine gambling. They also want a bipartisan committee to investigate DeNaples' licensing.

However, the bill to create that committee, House Resolution 652, still isn't posted online for the public to read. Is it any wonder that the Republicans are also decrying largely partisan efforts to block them?

"For all the grousing by lawmakers about the regulatory failure, they are responsible for creating a structure that compromised the independence of the investigative machinery responsible for licensing investigations and, potentially, of board members themselves," the Daily Review's editorial says.

I couldn't agree more.

Legalized gambling was a major change in Pennsylvania and should have been put to the voters in the form of a referendum. Instead, it was snuck into existence by gutting an existing bill and then ramrodded through the Legislature in the middle of the night on the eve of a July 4 holiday recess.

The newspaper also says, "Reforms now will be crucial not only regarding the determination of licenses for the remaining slots parlors authorized by the law, but for the inevitable future expansion of the gambling industry."

I dispute the inevitability of further gambling expansion.

Although House Bill 2121 is already pending to turn the 14 slots parlors - seven of which are already operating - into full casinos, Slotsylvania has yet to provide statewide property tax reductions for all homeowners, much less real tax reform.

Funding those tax cuts was the alleged public good behind slot machine gambling in the first place. Just because our lawmakers spend like drunken sailors and are now addicted to this revenue stream doesn't mean we should further feed their addiction. That's how New Jersey landed in budget trouble despite 30 years of gambling in Atlantic City.

Yet, even as America teeters on the edge of a recession, Pennsylvania's slots parlors continue to reap big profits. "What does this tell us?" state Rep. Paul Clymer (R-Bucks County) wrote in a letter to the editors of multiple newspapers today.

"It tells me that the path to addiction has a stronger hold on recreational gamblers than previously thought, because even though more and more people are carpooling, dining in and forgoing luxury vacations in an effort to save money, they are still spending money on the one-armed bandits."

The letter from Clymer, the minority chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, also calls for passage of his own bill, H.B. 783. It would require "each licensed gaming entity that offers patrons total rewards cards that track the amount of money and time spent gaming in order to determine the value of provisions or complimentary services to their patrons issue monthly statements that list patrons' gaming winnings and losses."

Clymer's bill has been stuck in his own committee for more than a year now. In fact, the oversight committee hasn't passed a single slots reform bill in that time under Chairman Harold James (D-Philadelphia).

"I encourage all citizens, as we face a sluggish economy and rising unemployment rates, to be smart about their finances and stick to a budget when it comes to recreational expenses," Clymer wrote. "Your money is better spent elsewhere than at a multi-billion dollar casino that has the odds in its favor...."


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

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