Monday, August 14, 2006

191: “What’s wrong with this picture?”


I’m glad you asked.

Daily the headlines and editorials march forward in ever increasing numbers: “Gambling’s Tangled Web in Pittsburgh”, “PGCB Still Withholding Info from Public”, “More Legislators Calling for Changes in Slots Law”, “Trump Faces Angry Phila. Group Over Casino Plan”.

In Pittsburgh, a city that only supports winners, as the fans traditionally stay home when the Pirates and Penguins are not leading their leagues, the politicians and casino investors are tying a new arena to the licensure of a slots casino. It is the only way, they say, to keep the Penguins, a franchise that has been rescued before, in Pittsburgh.

In the Pocono Mountains, an “entrepreneur” who has been convicted of attempting to defraud the United States government of $525,000, for which he received a suspended sentence, is vying for one of the two freestanding slots casinos in the state. Louis DeNaples is also allegedly linked to a mob figure who is the head of the Buffalino Family in Northeast Pennsylvania. Associates of this “entrepreneur” have been named to the Gambling Control Board.

In Gettysburg, a shady former corporate executive (David LeVan) is competing against the Pocono project, and other applicants in the Allentown-Bethlehem area, in spite of worldwide condemnation, and the wishes of his close friend Governor Rendell, and just about everybody else in the world.

The two free standing casinos are supposed to enhance tourism in Pennsylvania. Now, the last time I checked, Gettysburg already attracts a million visitors a year to the area. Allentown-Bethlehem are not your typical tourist destinations, though they do indeed draw some tourism to the Pennsylvania Dutch area west of Allentown, and there is a large amusement park in the area. The Poconos lost their luster decades ago back when they were a haven for honeymooners, skiers and summer visitors. The Poconos need tourists.

In Philadelphia, there will be three free standing casinos, authorized by legislation, and “The Donald”, who enticed a substantial list of popular Philly sports personalities to become investors, is seeking to build a casino in an area struck by the closing of the large employer there, the Budd Company, which made rail cars, and facing the probable loss of the Philly-based Tasty Baking Corporation as it seeks to relocate its bakery operations and its headquarters.

In all of these areas except the Poconos, community resistance to the imposition of casinos in their neighborhoods has risen to the level of a statewide umbrella organization, with friends in the legislature, and with the backing of some of the more powerful newspaper editorial boards in the state.

In the legislature, the House passed an amendment to a gambling omnibus bill by a vote of 199-0 that would prohibit a casino in Adams County. There is a bill pending in the House that would repeal the enabling legislation.

The Gambling Control Board, which has been in operation nearly two years, has run out of money, sparking outrage at the Governor and Senator Vince Fumo when they arranged to take money from several state departments in violation of the State Constitution, and shift it to the Gambling Control Board. It is unconstitutional to supply money without an appropriation, meaning the General Assembly must vote for all funding.

The Board, the chairman (Tad Decker) of which claims is "...neither a board nor a commission”, and therefore has no obligation under the state’s Sunshine Law, has operated in secret, giving preferential treatment to applicants and supporters, while giving short shrift and outright hostility to opponents.

Several employees of the gambling Control Board have been arrested for such crimes as brawling in public, drunk and disorderly, misusing their official position, and even murder. [The board insisted on subcontracting out background checks that the legislation detailed must be done by the Pennsylvania State Police.] The newly hired Executive Director (Anna Neeb) of the Gambling Control Board, who doubled her salary when she was hired away from the same job in Louisiana, barely escaped charges that she turned in false time sheets and was thus fraudulently overpaid by Louisiana.

And the worst still has not emerged from the secret and shadowy world of slots suppliers, a secondary industry created by the legislature as part of the enabling legislation specifically for insiders, lobbyists, personal and political friends and relatives. This industry which just began issuing licenses is already so corrupt and filled with graft that several license applicants, including one group that was actually awarded a license, chose to void its application and another group lost its main investors, both groups doing so because of the graft and corruption already present!

In the State Senate, Democrats and Republicans have been playing a political game of mumblety-peg over an amendment package reforming the Gambling Act [Act 71 of 2004]. The game became visible during last minute budget negotiations when Republicans held up the budget so one of their members could publicly query Senator Fumo about the transfer of funds to keep the Gambling Control Board running. [Fumo is under investigation by the Feds who are looking into his handling of money in and out of a non-profit organization he founded in his district in Philadelphia.]

All of this, however, stems from a series of unconstitutional actions committed by legislative leadership in the wee hours of an early July morning in 2004, when they conspired to pass an act, Act 71, with neither the due process or due diligence required by the Constitution, and using an unconstitutionally constructed bill. Governor Rendell signaled his complicity by signing the act immediately. The State Supreme Court under Chief Justice Ralph Cappy has so far signaled its complicity as well by refusing several attempts to overturn the Act as unconstitutional, regardless of the facts.

Now, citizens of Pennsylvania need to ask themselves a number of questions:

What’s wrong with this picture?

How could our elected official, from the State Representatives in the House, to the State Senators, to the Governor, to the justices of the State Supreme Court, conspire together to create such a conglomeration of corruption, graft, greed, nepotism, incompetence and insider conspiracies and do so by claiming it will bring tax relief to property owners in the Commonwealth? [That “relief” will be about $200 each which will primarily go to our aged population.]

What more will it take to awaken the citizens of Pennsylvania to the absolute danger that our corrupted elected officials have created, more for themselves than for their constituents?

What must the awakened citizenry do to correct this crime, and punish those responsible for it? [Hint: go back and read this again, only this time, write down the names you read.]

Now, armed with your list, go do what you know you must do to correct this. And do not waste any time, for the longer you wait, the closer we get to the issuance of free-standing licenses and once that happens, any roll-back or repeal will generate enormous lawsuits that the Commonwealth will lose, and the litigation will be costly, though not nearly as costly as the awards given to the applicants that sue.

The one name you need to know to go to in order to fix this is Representative Paul Clymer of Bucks County. He has the pending repeal bill. He also has a bill pending to order a moratorium against the issuance of any licenses of any kind by the Gambling Control Board until this can be sorted out in the legislature and in the courts.

What’s wrong with this picture? Aren’t you glad you asked?

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