Pennsylvania Casino Association under scrutiny

By Tracie Mauriello, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG — During the final days of state budget negotiations, a flurry of press releases was sent to media, letters were sent to lawmakers and radio ads were sent over airwaves, all advocating low tax rates and license fees for casino table games.

One statement threatened that four large casinos would sue the state if smaller ones were allowed to increase the number of slot machines at their locations.

The communications all emanated from The Pennsylvania Casino Association, which has been run for the last two years by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr. and his daughter Michele Zappala Peck, who is running for Allegheny Common Pleas Court.

Although The Pennsylvania Casino Association incorporated in May 2007, it’s been virtually invisible until this month even though it is in the hands of a powerful and prominent political family with ties to Harrisburg power brokers.

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By Tracie Mauriello, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG — Leaders of the House and Senate Gaming Oversight Committees say they are concerned that a casino trade association isn’t registered to lobby even though it advocates for legislation aimed at helping the gaming industry.

The lawmakers also want to know why the group, the Pennsylvania Casino Association, did not disclose on tax forms that former Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr. is its chairman and former executive director.

Ken Smukler, the association’s current executive director, said his group never intended to hide Mr. Zappala’s involvement and that it isn’t registered with the Department of State to lobby because its leaders don’t believe their communication with lawmakers constitutes lobbying.

Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, and Rep. Dante Santoni, D-Berks, aren’t so sure. They chair their respective chambers’ gaming oversight committees.

“I don’t want to be accusatory in the sense of accusing them of actively concealing something because I don’t know, but the purpose of lobbying disclosure rules is so that we can have transparency as far as who is talking to whom about what,” said Ms. Earll.

“The other question is why they’re insisting they’re not lobbyists. If they’re not lobbying, what’s the purpose of the association?”

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board which regulates gaming but has no control over legislation, has had no contact with the association, said spokesman Doug Harbach.

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