HARRISBURG -- He considers himself a "pretty good" blackjack player and likes the ponies, though he has never really been all that lucky a gambler.
But Gov. Ed Rendell -- Pennsylvania's biggest cheerleader for slot machines -- had an encounter with Lady Luck last spring at Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack that is only now coming to light.
He left $2,000 richer, according to Mr. Rendell's federal tax return released to The Inquirer last week.
Most people fortunate enough to hit it big at the slots can't contain their excitement. For Mr. Rendell, it was not exhilaration but panic.
It would hit the newspapers, he feared, and gambling critics were "going to go wild," he recalled thinking.
And he could imagine the rumors: "It's going to look like Harrah's did something for me, or they rigged the machines for me," said Mr. Rendell, who fought to create the state's multibillion-dollar slots industry in 2004. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, we are in trouble.' "
In an interview last week, Mr. Rendell spoke about his good fortune for the first time publicly and gave this account:
He was at the "racino" to give a speech to the Chester chapter of the NAACP on April 11, 2008. Afterward, Harrah's executives urged him to test his luck on the $10 Wheel of Fortune machines.
Two attempts and nothing. He reluctantly reached into his pocket and fed $20 more into the machine. Then he started to hit. One time, then another, until he built up a total he thought was $200. He asked to cash out. A Harrah's worker handed him a tax form.
"What's this?" Mr. Rendell recalled asking.
The IRS requires winners of $1,200 or more on slots to report the money immediately. Mr. Rendell had forgotten he was playing the $10 machine, so his "$200" was $2,000.
With the winnings, he treated the two members of his state police security detail each to a $100 gift certificate at Harrah's steakhouse and took the rest home.
"I never saw a dime. My two troopers got $100 gift certificates, Midge got a little shopping money, and Uncle Sam got the rest," Mr. Rendell added.
He reported his winnings on his 1040 tax form, which he filed jointly with his wife, a federal appellate judge, to the IRS last month. Tax returns are not public documents, though Mr. Rendell has provided them when reporters have asked. If he had not released his return this year, the public might never have known about his winnings. That's because Mr. Rendell did not disclose them on his 2008 Statement of Financial Interest, a public document filed with the state Ethics Commission last week.
Public officials must report gambling winnings on their financial interest forms if they exceed $1,300 annually.
Chuck Ardo, Mr. Rendell's press secretary, called it a "clerical oversight." On Thursday, Mr. Rendell submitted an amended ethics form listing Harrah's Chester as a source of income.