Ed King: Welcome to Party Line, caller.
Ed Rendell: Is this Don Barden?
Ed King: No, this is Ed King. You're on Party Line.
Ed Rendell: Oh, sorry. I must have the wrong conference call.
Don Barden: Ed? Is that you?
Ed King: Speaking. Welcome to Party Line.
Don Barden: I meant the other Ed.
Ed Rendell: Don?
Dwight Evans: This is Dwight.
Wendy King: Dwight, welcome to Party Line. What's on your mind?
Neil Bluhm: Um, I was calling ... is this the thing about the casino?
Ed King: The casino, the Pirates, any and all salmagundi, caller.
Don Barden: Neil? Thank God it's you. I'm in Detroit and -- funny story, really -- I lost my wallet. All the credit cards and everything. Could you wire me like $120 million?
Ed King: OK, we have Baron Figtree on the line. Go ahead, Baron.
Baron: Yeah, about the Pirates. I was reading that they might trade Xavier Nady for David Price and Jake McGee. I mean, if I'm the GM, I'm pulling the trigger on that trade yesterday. Yesterday. Dontcha think? I'll hang up now and listen to your answer.
Wendy King: Well said, caller. And now it's time for our Party Pretzel: What is the name of the Scranton businessman and casino operator who was indicted on perjury charges in January of this year? Call us at EXpress1-1038 for your prize.
Ed Rendell: Wait, give me a sec. I totally know this one.
... With that nonsense out of the way, on to today's news:
"Republicans and Democrats alike are criticizing a flurry of last-minute phone calls among casino investors, state gaming board members and Democratic politicians, all in advance of a deal moving Pittsburgh's casino project out of Don Barden's hands. State Rep. Dwight Evans, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said yesterday that he, Gov. Ed Rendell, Rendell Chief of Staff Greg Fajt, Don Barden, and Mr. Barden's new business partner, Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, discussed the impending deal twice by conference call on Monday. The deal, which gives Mr. Bluhm's outfit 75 percent control of the Pittsburgh casino in exchange for $120 million in cash, was signed Wednesday. Mr. Evans, D-Philadelphia, also said he discussed the deal by phone with Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board member Jeff Coy and board Chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins, and fielded calls from Mr. Barden himself on Sunday."
What's the hubbub? The gaming law's prohibition of "ex parte," off-the-record conversations regarding matters that may come before the gaming board:
"The 2004 gaming law's code of conduct (section 1202.1) [says]: 'A member of the board shall not engage in any ex parte communication with any person [and shall] avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety at all times and observe standards and conduct that promote public confidence in the oversight of gaming.'"
... The Trib reports: "Negotiations between Barden and Bluhm over control of the casino had hit 'some sticking points,' said Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo. Participants declined to specify what was bogging down the talks, which they had hoped to complete the previous Friday ... Rendell's long-time relationship with Bluhm was 'critical' to getting the deal done, Ardo said. 'His role was simply as an intermediary,' Ardo said. 'He attempted to smooth out whatever rough spots remained toward the end of their negotiations, and clearly he was successful.'"
... You've read about the 75-25 split of the North Shore casino, with Bluhm & Co. taking 75 percent and Barden & Co. retaining 25 percent, but this is your first look at exactly how those two ownership blocs will be divided among the many stakeholders within the newly formed Pittsburgh Gaming Holdings, LLP. The Pittsburgh casino reorganization is detailed starting on page 8.
- Barden's 25 percent share is really a 20 percent share -- 2.5 percent of his chunk is an investment from the Police and Fire Retirement System of City of Detroit, and another 2.5 percent comes from the General Retirement System of City of Detroit.
- The Bluhm & Co. share, Pittsburgh Gaming Investors, is split like this -- 68.625 percent to Walton Majestic Star Holdings VI, 22.242 percent to High Pitt Gaming, 8.3 percent to Cira Pittsburgh Gaming Investor, L.P., 0.5 to Pittsburgh Gaming Investors GP, and 0.333 to an outfit named HPP, LP. Greg A. Carlin, Ira Lubert, and numerous of trusts and real estate funds are named on the ownership list.
From the mailbag
"I have never felt very comfortable with Mr. Barden, he reminds me of a carpetbagger. I find it amazing that the parking garage that was under question has made it up to 10 floors, while the casino itself is a steel shell."
"Hooray for the bi-partisan efforts of Ferlo and Orie to push for re-opening the bidding process ... If control of Pittsburgh's casino venue is awarded to the same group that now controls casino operations in Philadelphia, the whole idea of gambling as a revenue source becomes less transparent and is in the hands of too few."
"I think our two senators have done what many have thought about [in proposing to strip Don Barden of his casino license]. Now it is time for the commission to act accordingly."
"The new deal should FIZZLE. This whole scenario is beginning to smell like three-day-old dead fish. This board will rubber-stamp this new deal without any investigation. That seems to be standard operating procedure for them. Barden should not own one crumb of this, let alone 25 percent. The board should refund his $50 million. If Bluhm wants the Pgh location, let him shell out $50 million more."
"So, Mr. Barden did not really have the wherewithal to execute on his plan, and now he is not even the winner that the state / city thought they picked, because he has lost control. I have been following this since the beginning and his finances have always seemed suspect (but we are all happy to have a new arena and keep the Penguins)."
"Unbelievable. So, now elected officials will unabashedly get involved to preserve a single investor's stake in a casino? The majority Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who controls the annual budget of the gaming board, engaging in a conversation with a Board member on behalf of Don Barden, a troubled casino investor and working to obtain 'assurances' on behalf of new investors? I wonder what Evans did to prevent Barden from being totally removed from the deal?"
"To have some high roller with capital step in and 'buy' the rights precludes anyone else who could offer the taxpayer a better deal. It is incumbent on the gaming board to get the best deal possible for the taxpayer and this is not it."
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania
Lost amid the Don Barden mess is the slightly smaller Centaur mess in Lawrence County. The would-be racetrack operator said a week ago that it needed a temporary casino license by this week, or else it would be at risk of losing its financing. Well, here we are at the end of this week, and the Indiana-based company is trying save money where it can:
"Centaur Inc. is cutting back on expenses while waiting for word on a slots parlor license. The Indiana-based company, which plans to build a harness racing track and casino in Mahoning Township, parted ways with its Harrisburg public relations firm last week and discontinued or reduced its use of other consulting services, according to Centaur officials. Centaur had been using the services of Rick Kelly of Triad Strategies to providing media relations, Web site setup, fact sheets and other work for the Valley View Downs project. Kelly said Monday that as of late last week, the company no longer works for Centaur."
That's from the New Castle News. But IBJ says there may be a ray of hope.
... Bethlehem, Pa., is rubbing our noses in it:
"Bethlehem already is reaping the benefits of the Sands Bethworks Casino, even though it won't be completed until next year. The last beam of its steel structure was set in place near the end of June, which means the construction is ahead of schedule. The city already is gaining revenue ... While this casino project is doing well on just about all accounts, the same cannot be said for other casino projects that are struggling through birth pangs elsewhere in Pennsylvania ...the board's decision on Sands as the Bethlehem licensee it looking better all the time."
Battle of Gettysburg, Redux
Remember the big to-do over the Gettysburg casino? And how all the battlefield preservation types were worried that the casino would be bad for toursim and that drunken revelers might wander into Devil's Den and start knocking over monuments just for the hell of it? And how the casino people said, Aww, pish, that's not gonna happen, and besides, we're gonna dress it up real nice and have a spa and everything?
Well, that guy is back -- but he's learned from his mistakes:
"David LeVan wants to try again. The man whose plan to build a casino near Gettysburg drew national attention and significant local opposition in 2005 and 2006 said Wednesday he has the financial backing he needs to take a second shot at securing a slots license for Adams County. LeVan said he intends to do exactly that if a license becomes available - something that seems increasingly likely. Investors in Valley View Downs, a proposed Lawrence County casino and horse-racing facility, are struggling to refinance the $455 million project before the state Gaming Control Board finishes its investigation and decides whether to grant them a license. If investors in Valley View Downs are forced to withdraw their application, 'then I will get very aggressive,' LeVan said. 'I wanted to send a message that if they don't, I can,' he said. 'There is an alternative out here.' This time around, LeVan's proposal will include plans for a horse-racing facility and be located somewhere in the southern part of the county -- away from the Gettysburg battlefield and near the Maryland line."
That's from The Evening Sun of Hanover.
... Day Two of their coverage:
"His vow to keep future casino proposals away from the Gettysburg battlefield might appease some of David LeVan's former opponents, but the businessman's most vocal critic remains far from satisfied. 'There's no place in Adams County that's far enough away to not contaminate the atmosphere of this community,' said Susan Star Paddock, who headed the local citizens group No Casino Gettysburg, which played a key role in defeating LeVan's 2006 bid to build a slots parlor near Gettysburg."
Maybe she should change the name of her group then -- No Casino Gettysburg Or Anywhere Within a 40-Mile Radius Of Gettysburg.
Odds and ends
Newspaper reporters won't have to testify in the DeNaples grand jury probe ... Will Penn National now focus on buying Ameristar Casinos? ... The New And Improved Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs is open for business ... "Officials at Charles Town Races and Slots in West Virginia are again allowing horses to come and go after test results indicated that a sick horse on the property does not have equine herpesvirus-1." .. Jobs to be had at the Greektown Casino in Detroit ... This Inky editorial says Pennsylvania has been rushing its casino industry, to lackluster results. Hard to argue with that, at this point.