Don't quit your day job

Written by Bill Toland on .

Sen. Jane OrieNo, on second thought, maybe you should quit your day job, say state Sens. Jane Orie and Vince Fumo in a press release today. They want members of the state's Gaming Control Board to drop whatever else they're doing before they are appointed to the gaming board, a position that pays six figures:

Two state Senators have developed bipartisan legislation that would make several important amendments to Pennsylvania's 2004 slot machine gambling law, including prohibiting outside income by Gaming Control Board members, expanding the prohibition on campaign contributions from casino interests, and increasing public disclosure of previously confidential information supplied by license applicants.

Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia) and Jane C. Orie (R-Allegheny) plan to introduce the bill in time for it to be considered when the Senate returns to session in September. Fumo was an early supporter of legalizing slot machines and was one of the chief authors of the legislation to do so. Orie opposed the expansion of gambling in the state.

"We disagreed on the overall public policy merits of the legalizing slots, but we agree now that the experience of the past several years compels us to make changes," Orie said.

"The past two years have highlighted several unintentional deficiencies of the existing law. We created a new industry in this state and adopted the best practices that we could find from other states, but the law was not perfect and we can improve upon it," Fumo said.

The proposed legislation would make Gaming Control Board members full time, and ineligible for outside income. They are already paid a salary reflective of the full-time nature of the position - $150,000 per year for the chairman and $145,000 for the other six members.

Fumo and Orie said the intensity and complexity of the work argue for it being a full-time job, and the need to prevent actual or perceived conflicts of interest suggests a need for prohibiting outside employment.

Another key provision would clarify the limited nature of confidentiality of information about license applicants. Although the existing Gaming Act contains a narrow definition of confidential information, the Board has taken a very broad interpretation of this provision and has deemed all information provided by an applicant to be confidential. This bill would open up all information that is not specifically designated as confidential, such as trade secrets or personal medical and financial data about applicants.

Fumo and Orie also propose to eliminate the section of the law that gives jurisdiction over all slots license appeals and slots-related zoning appeals directly to the Supreme Court. Intended to expedite appeals that may have delayed the opening of the casinos, it has had the effect of eliminating the important appellate record that is typically created at the Commonwealth Court level.

Another measure within the bill expands the ban on campaign contributions from licensed casino operators to those who have registered with the Gaming Board as "licensed casino representatives." This would prevent casino operators from making contributions indirectly through paid lobbyists.

"All of these provisions would create greater public confidence in Pennsylvania's Gaming Act and Gaming Control Board," Orie said. "That confidence has been shaken recently, and we must restore the complete integrity of the process in the public eye."

The bill would also require the two casinos licensed for Philadelphia to obtain authorization from the General Assembly, and to compensate the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, for the use of public land before they are allowed to commence gambling operations. Currently, the two licensed casinos plan construction on land that is partially within the river bed of the Delaware River. To date, they have not sought a grant of these riparian rights from the Commonwealth.

Among the other amendments in the Fumo/Orie proposal, the bill would:

-require a two-third Senate confirmation of all future members of the Gaming Board.

-require oral hearings with the right of cross examination for all matters before the Board.

-prevent an applicant from borrowing the initial $50 million license fee and require a surety bond from the licensee when the licensee is also the developer of the project.

-require disclosure and posting on the Internet of information concerning the true identity of the controlling interest in a gaming facility.

-require the board to adopt regulations, in addition to those already in place, maintaining the separation of prosecutorial and adjudicatory functions.

-authorize and encourage the Board to seek the advice of the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General on ethics and related issues.

-prohibit Gaming Board officials from gaining employment in gaming related fields for two years.

"We have learned a lot in the four years since we passed the original law. We have casinos that are running smoothly and have been very successful in generating revenue that is reducing taxes for our citizens. But we have also encountered some problems, and it is critical that we correct them now while Pennsylvania's gaming industry is still young," Fumo said.

Senators and representatives, Republicans and Democrats, have proposed all sorts of changes to the gaming act since it becamse law four years ago. Only a few changes have made it past the governor's desk. Will these ones? 

... The gaming board is set to meet to Thursday to discuss the Bluhm-Barden casino switcharoo.

... You know what? Let's just scrap the whole thing. No casinos for anybody:

"A statewide anti-casino group is urging state gambling regulators to hold off indefinitely on approvals of new slots licenses and license transfers from one casino owner to another. Casino-Free Pennsylvania leader Dianne Berlin said yesterday that ongoing problems with three slots parlors -- including Don Barden's casino in Pittsburgh and a proposed Centaur Inc. racetrack/casino in Lawrence County -- show the need for such a moratorium." 

Atlantic City casino revenues, via the Press of Atlantic CityDispatches from the east

Speaking of those two Philadelphia casino sites, Gov. Ed Rendell is planning to meet with legislators, the Philadelphia mayor and casino investors on Aug. 21 to discuss the progress, or lack thereof, at the two casino sites.

... Atlantic City's casino revenues took yet another battering in July:

"Altogether, the 11 casinos took in $438.7 million in revenue at the slot machines and gaming tables, representing a 6.6 percent decline compared with $469.6 million in July 2007, according to figures released Monday by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission ... Casinos have been hammered by the lagging economy, high gas prices, extra competition from slot parlors in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York and the lingering effects of Atlantic City's partial smoking ban."

... An update on the Bethlehem, Pa. casino.

Odds and ends

The PG editorializes about Centaur Inc. and its plans for a Lawrence County casino, whicg says it is still negotiating with its lenders ... Casinos are on the ballot in Ohio, leaving one small town to ponder the ramifications of a slots parlor close by ... The Buffalo, N.Y., casino is still under construction, but the nearby temporary casino is bringing in some nice numbers ... Will Massachusetts put casinos on the ballot? Gov. Deval Patrick is keeping his cards close to the vest.



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