Legislator questions mission of state casino association

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HARRISBURG -- Dante Santoni, chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, wants to know who is on the board of the Pennsylvania Casino Association and what its mission is.

He is concerned that the trade association has no registered lobbyists even though it has been advocating for changes to the gaming law that would legalize table games such as poker and blackjack.

Mr. Santoni, D-Berks, this week sent a letter requesting information from the association's chairman, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr.

Mr. Santoni's inquiry was sparked by a Post-Gazette story last month that revealed that the group is run by Mr. Zappala and his daughter Michelle Zappala Peck, whose names do not appear on incorporation papers or tax filings that give the casino group nonprofit status.

Mr. Zappala was the group's executive director for its first two years and now is its chairman. Mrs. Zappala Peck is its operations director.

Most concerning to Mr. Santoni is the association's failure to register under the state's lobbyist disclosure law even though it has publicly advocated a position on tax rates for table games, written letters to lawmakers and advertised its position on radio stations.

"I am puzzled by the statements by the officers of the association that the association is not lobbying and does not need to comply with the requirements of Act 71, the state's lobbying disclosure law," Mr. Santoni wrote Monday in a letter to Mr. Zappala.

He also is concerned that lawmakers have received conflicting information from the association and its members regarding their positions on pending legislation.

"It is in the best interest of the industry, the public and legislators to ensure that lobbying efforts to affect Pennsylvania's gaming laws adhere to the highest standards and strictest transparency," he wrote.

Ken Smukler, the association's executive director spokesman, said Mr. Zappala intended to respond "fully, completely and in a timely manner."

Mr. Santoni said yesterday that his aim is to get clarification on the group's efforts to influence legislation.

The association represents the Rivers Casino 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.


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