Pa. casinos spend over $1 million to lobby in 09 - Wednesday 9th of December 2009

Pennsylvania casinos have spent more than $1 million this year to lobby lawmakers and state officials as they sought to influence legislation to both expand their business and bring on potential competition.

Eleven casino firms report combined spending of $1.1 million through Sept. 30 in three quarterly reports filed with the Department of State. This includes reports for two firms that have yet to build casinos they are licensed for.

Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Plains Twp. reported spending nearly $50,000 to lobby.

This has been a high-stakes period for the casino industry. Legalization of table games such as roulette and poker for their parlors is pending as part of the 2009-10 state budget, and legislation was proposed earlier this year by Gov. Ed Rendell to usher in competition by legalizing video lottery machines in taverns and social clubs. Prospects for video lottery faded when table games emerged as a key part of budget deals reached between Mr. Rendell and legislative leaders starting in September.

Lawmakers have yet to pass enabling legislation for table games, thus generating a needed $200 million in first-year revenue for the budget.

Lobbying

Mount Airy Casino Resort in Monroe County reported no lobbying expenses for the three quarters. This means that Mount Airy spent less than a $2,500 reporting threshold under state law in each of the three quarters, said Mount Airy General Counsel Donald Shiffer.

Both casinos in Northeast Pennsylvania have hired prominent lobbyists to represent them in Harrisburg. Mohegan Sun is represented by Wolf Block Government Relations; Mount Airy by Stephen Wojdak, a one-time Philadelphia lawmaker.

Mount Airy uses Mr. Wojdaks firm for legal advice too, said Mr. Shiffer. When it comes to the lobbying disclosure forms, Mr. Wojdaks firm has calculated how much of the work is legal in nature for each quarter, and so far the lobbying portion has fallen under the reporting threshold under a 2006 state lobbying disclosure law, he added.

Mount Airy remained under a trusteeship due to the legal problems facing owner Louis A. DeNaples until June, so it wasnt engaged in lobbying, added Mr. Shiffer. After Dauphin County prosecutors dropped perjury charges against Mr. DeNaples, the state Gaming Control Board approved a plan to transfer control of Mount Airy to his children.

Mount Airy belongs to the Pennsylvania Casino Association, which is under legislative scrutiny as to whether its a trade group or lobbying group and, therefore, should fall under the requirements of the lobbying disclosure law.

Rep. Dante Santoni, D-126, Reading, chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, has asked association officials to provide information clarifying their status. Mr. Santoni said he is waiting for an answer before deciding whether to hold a public hearing on the matter.

Rep. Curt Schroder, R-155, Exton, ranking Republican on the gaming oversight panel, called last week for such a hearing.

"If they (the association) are engaging in lobbying activity, they need to identify themselves as lobbyists and register with the state," said Mr. Schroder.

Mr. Shiffer said Mount Airy joined the association as a member in 2007 in anticipation it would be a trade group. Mount Airy isnt involved in the associations day-to-day operations, he added.

Ken Smukler, the associations executive director, has said the commissions main activities have involved issuing press releases about the table games legislation.

Spending

All told, special interests have spent $340 million to lobby in Harrisburg this year.

State disclosure forms provide for lobbies to identify the broad general issues they are lobbying on, but many leave that space blank. Mohegan Sun has lobbied on casino gambling and wagering/gaming issues. Some casinos report lobbying on tobacco, liquor and entertainment issues too.

Other lobbying expenditures for operating casinos include: Penn National Hollywood, $140,000; The Meadows, $55,000; Philadelphia Park, $94,000; Harrahs, $101,000; Rivers Casino, $90,000; Presque Isle, $331; and Sands Bethworks ,$307,000.

Apart from casinos, other interests lobby on gaming-related issues too.

The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemens Association reported spending $51,000 so far this year. The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage Association, which represents tavern owners, reported spending $36,000.

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