Lots of e-mails from readers who are less than enamoured with the Bluhm-Barden casino switcharoo. A small sampling:
"So the politicians got what they wanted, and the board said, 'How high should I jump, and they did. Unfortunately the fish smell is worse than ever ... Obviously, this was planned to be a done deal from the beginning."
"I think this is so crooked from the start; [Barden] shouldn't have got it in the first place. Now he gets to choose who does get the license, and make money. I think a lot of people (crooks) need to go to jail -- every crook on the gaming board, go to jail. Barden -- jail. But because they are rich, they are allowed to be crooked. This needs investigated by federal prosecutor. Rich get away with anything what a country."
"The whole casino thing is nothing but a big conspiracy. Don Barden had no business getting the casino license in the first place, and then because he doesn't have the money, the big boys step in to save the day. They probably could not have gotten the casino license in the first place, but now with everything in doubt the gaming commission approves the new ownership in a flash. It took those morons almost a year to come up with Barden as the best option -- and almost instantly the new owners are approved. CONSPIRACY."
... the Morning Call's Matt Birkbeck says Don Barden was a gamble - in more ways than one:
"In his bid for a Pittsburgh casino, Don Barden told state gaming investigators he'd racked up $11 million in gambling losses because he played with people who 'wagered excessively,' including former basketball star Michael Jordan, according to a report obtained by The Morning Call. Barden also told the investigators in August 2006 that he had stopped gambling with Jordan, with whom blackjack bets could run $10,000 per hand, and that he'd paid down nearly $2 million in gambling debts to various casinos, according to an internal Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board report. Report in hand, the gaming board in December 2006 awarded Barden a slots license. Last month, the Detroit businessman lost majority control of Pittsburgh's Majestic Star Casino amid money problems unrelated to him personally. Barden's short tenure as majority owner of Majestic has drawn additional scrutiny of gaming regulators already being questioned for their licensing approval of Scranton area businessman Louis DeNaples, owner of the Mount Airy casino."
He lost millions because he played with people who "wagered excessively"? Sounds like he was one of the people who wagered excessively. (Note: his gambling debts had been questioned by critics previously.)
... The P-G's editorial board likes the unholy marriage between Jane Orie and Vince Fumo, and the legislative offspring it has created:
"Pennsylvania's slots casino law is a work in progress. Ever since it was enacted in 2004, the statute has been poked, scorned, reviled and revised ... The latest [proposed revision] is a raft of improvements put forth by two unlikely allies: Republican Sen. Jane Orie of McCandless, who opposed the legalization of slots, and Democratic Sen. Vincent Fumo of Philadelphia, who wrote the casino law. Their revisions would toughen the state gaming board, broaden the public information on license applicants and reduce the role of politics. These are noble objectives, and the senators' bipartisan approach should win the bill considerable votes. If enacted, these reforms won't be the last changes made to the slots law, but they'll take care of assorted problems that have surfaced in Pennsylvania's short experience."
... Construction on the Majestic Star Unnamed North Shore Casino could begin as early as tomorrow.
Dispatches from the North
It could be a month or more before the state's gaming board votes on whether to give Centaur Inc. a gaming license:
"The state Gaming Control Board expects to hold a suitability hearing by mid- to late September on Centaur Inc.'s request for a racetrack slots license, the key element in plans to build a new $430 million track and casino west of New Castle in Lawrence County. Centaur officials are still working with their lenders to firm up financing for the project, which has been hampered by their inability, so far, to obtain a slots license from the state and by the ongoing turmoil in the credit markets. Gaming board investigators said they hope to complete, by early September, background checks of Indianapolis-based Centaur, which now owns a racetrack in Indiana and a casino in Colorado."
You don't suppose the criminal prosecution of Mike Veon / Gerald LaValle's wife is making anybody at the gaming board nervous, do you? Worried about what may leak out of thoe investigations, maybe?
Save the ponies!
Slots have been good for harness racing in Pennsylvania. But no great -- at least not lately:
"The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission, meeting recently at the Mohegan Sun racetrack and casino at Pocono Downs, acknowledged that the industry had a challenging July, reporting less betting at various tracks across the state, from 9 percent to 19 percent, compared to last July. The saving grace was out-of-state wagering, which provided the boost that many tracks needed to post gains in their overall handles. Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, for example, posted a 26 percent increase in its handle, compared to 2007, even though the number of on track bets was down more than 19 percent compared to last July."
Until next time ...