Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Probe Finds Political Pressure On Gaming Decisions

A two-year grand jury investigation of Pennsylvania’s Gaming Control Board culminated in a scathing 102-page report, but no recommendations for criminal charges.

The report alleges political pressure from lawmakers and board members led to intentionally lax investigations of casino license applicants, hires for well-connected but poorly-qualified job candidates, and rushed decisions. It says board officials ran interference for preferred license applicants, leading to incomplete background checks by its Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement. The grand jury says the organization “engaged in activities which eroded, at a minimum, this grand jury’s confidence in the system.” It "failed to thoroughly protect the public from unlawful gaming practices; failed to maximize potential new revenue to the commonwealth to support property tax relief.”

Longtime board critic Mike Vereb, a Montgomery County House Republican, said the report shows the need for reform. “This is a damning report. And it doesn’t indict people, but it indicts the process,” he said. “And we have an obligation – and the people in this building better start getting the message – we have an obligation to fix the law.”

Vereb sponsored a House bill removing the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, the board’s investigative arm, from under the agency’s control. The report recommended the change, along with 20 other suggestions, including annual independent audits; online posting of contracts and right-to-know requests; stricter guidelines for gubernatorial appointees; a decrease in the amount of executive sessions conducted by the board; and full public transcripts of the sessions that do take place.

In a statement, Board Chair Greg Fajt called the report “a rehash of old news,” and a waste of tax money. "The Board has steadfastly and repeatedly said that we did our work well, we have protected the public, and the citizens of Pennsylvania are reaping tremendous dividends from our work…After this grand jury met for more than 2 years, there were no arrests, no presentments, no indictments. They found no criminal activity because there was, in fact, no criminal activity to be found."

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