Casino group's failure to enroll as lobby called concern

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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.

According to tax filings, the Pennsylvania Casino Association advocates for improved business conditions and a better understanding of the industry by the public and lawmakers.

"They certainly can lobby, but they need to play by the same rules as everybody else," said Mr. Santoni, who is considering convening a public hearing for his committee to explore members' concerns.

Mr. Smukler said lawmakers have not contacted the association to express those concerns, which were reported Sunday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"They know how to reach us if they're concerned, and they have not raised those concerns to us," he said.

Lobbying registration records are maintained by the Department of State, which referred enforcement questions to the state Ethics Commission.

The Pennsylvania Casino Association has three members: The Rivers in Pittsburgh, Mount Airy Resort Casino in the Poconos and SugarHouse in Philadelphia.


Tracie Mauriello can be reached at tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141. Follow her at www.twitter.com/pgpolitweets .


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