Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Political Contributions Aim Of Pennsylvania Bill

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is an AP article on Pennsylvania legislators' attempt to halt contributions made by gaming companies to state politicians. The aim of the bill is to fix a recent state Supreme Court ruling that, in effect, allows these types of contributions.

New bill would stem gambling cash to Pa. campaigns
By Marc Levy
The Associated Press
June 23, 2009

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Legislation geared to thicken the walls between Pennsylvania's gambling industry and public officials sailed through a Senate committee Tuesday, just as legislators are taking a serious look at legalizing table games at casinos.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee after countless press conferences and legislative hearings on perceived shortcomings in the state's casino regulation.

It is the first major gambling reform legislation to pass a Senate committee since 2006, when state regulators approved 11 slot-machine casino licenses in Pennsylvania.

"I think it's a strong message, and I believe we're on the path to restoring public trust" in the state's casino regulation, said Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, a leading critic of the state's chief gambling regulator, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

A top priority in the bill is reinstating a ban on cash contributions to political causes by gambling industry executives and investors.

In April, the state Supreme Court struck down a five-year-old ban, saying a complete prohibition on contributions went farther in practice than called for by the 2004 law.

On Tuesday, a government watchdog group, Common Cause Pennsylvania, said it counted $4.4 million in political campaign contributions in Pennsylvania from people and groups in the gambling industry beginning in 2001.

"This study helps explain the gaming industry's winning streak in Pennsylvania," said Barry Kauffman, the group's executive director. "And it suggests that gaming interests will go on a giving binge now that they have the chance."

The 51-page bill also would toughen the gaming board's "revolving door" policy, requiring top and midlevel employees to wait two years, instead of just one, before working in the industry. The policy also would cover lawyers , an aspect that may get scrutiny by the state Supreme Court, which reserves the regulation of lawyers for itself.

The bill has the support of Senate leaders and could pass the chamber as early as this month, but its prospects are uncertain in the House.

Currently, a bill to legalize table games is pending in the House, and another is expected to be introduced in the Senate within days, with some legislators talking about taxing the revenue as a way to help the state fill its deep deficit.

Pennsylvania has eight slot-machine casinos currently operating and another , Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh , expected to open within weeks.

Casino owners have lobbied for the legalization of table games, saying it will create valuable jobs and make the establishments more competitive with the expanding gambling industries in states along Pennsylvania's borders.