Pennsylvania’s fiscal watchdog says the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is in violation of the state’s Sunshine Act. Auditor General Jack Wagner says the board failed to issue the proper approvals for $7 million in contracts for legal and other professional services.
Wagner says of the 23 contracts he audited, 19 of them were not awarded through competitive sealed bids, were not emergency contracts and often were not the subject of board votes during public meetings. "The single most important mission of the Gaming Control Board is to reassure the public that the gaming industry in Pennsylvania is being professionally run and to protect its integrity," Wagner says. He says for many there is a perception that gaming and criminal activity go hand in hand so the board should “bend over backwards” to make sure there is no appearance of impropriety.
The audit found that the board's regular meeting minutes gave no sign as to whether the members knew about the details of the contracts, or how the board may or may not have been involved in the decision-making and deliberations. "The absence of documentation to support claims made about selected vendors is a serious problem,” says Wagner, "Without such documentation, the board cannot assure the public, the General Assembly, gaming entities or other service providers, that it selected the service providers in the commonwealth's best interest." He says if the board is not getting the best deal it means the property owners of Pennsylvania are not getting the highest rate of tax relief possible.
The audit also found questionable activity when it comes to travel expense and miscellaneous purchases. The audit found “Governing board members and some top staff unnecessarily claimed meal reimbursements at two and one-half times more than the state's standard reimbursement rate… Four governing board members and a staff executive spent at least $33,000 for a trip to Rome… Governing board members did not justify their stays at expensive hotels, and received reimbursements for rooms of guests who traveled with the Gaming officials.” The report goes on to say, “Auditors found that 39 of 135, or 28.8 percent, of meal vouchers were submitted for reimbursements at the maximum enhanced rate that was as high as $152.50, compared with the maximum standard rate of $61.” Wagner says there is no way to match the claims with the actual spending because the board did not require receipts.
Wagner has turned the audit over to the Attorney General’s office for review and has called on the board to change its rules and practices.
Gaming Board Spokesperson Doug Harbach says, "We take the Auditor General’s findings on our procurement seriously. We’re practical. In the future we’re looking at approving all contracts with a public vote. This is simply a difference of opinion on how we conduct our contracting and how the Auditor General believes it should be done."