HARRISBURG -- The newest member of the state Gaming Control Board is a Philadelphia lawyer who was part of a group that, three years ago, lost a bid for a slots license to operate a casino in Philadelphia.
Former Philadelphia city solicitor Kenneth Trujillo was tapped by Gov. Ed Rendell to fill the seat on the gaming regulatory board that was vacated by Sanford Rivers of Pittsburgh, one of the governor's original three appointees in 2005. Mr. Rivers, a former Carnegie Mellon University official, recently resigned from the $145,000-a-year job.
Mr. Trujillo, 50, was part of an unsuccessful group of investors that wanted to build a stand-alone slots casino called Riverwalk. In December 2006 the gaming board awarded licenses for five stand-alone casinos in the state, including two in Philadelphia -- to be called SugarHouse and Foxwoods. The board also awarded licenses for three other casinos, one in Pittsburgh, one in Bethlehem and one in the Poconos.
Doug Harbach, a gaming board spokesman, said Mr. Trujillo had less than a 1 percent investment interest in the Riverwalk proposal. Gary Tuma, a Rendell spokesman, said he thinks Mr. Trujillo's experience in that project will help him on the regulatory agency.
"Ken's prior experience is a tremendous benefit," Mr. Tuma said. The Riverwalk group's effort to get a license "concluded three years ago and he has not been involved since. The experience of having been an applicant gives him a perspective on the process that may prove valuable to the board."
Neither Philadelphia casino is open yet. SugarHouse expects to have its first phase of slots open in the spring. The gaming board has told Foxwoods it must be open by May 2011; if not, it could risk losing its slots license. Its parent operation, a mega-casino in Connecticut also called Foxwoods, is facing severe financial problems and recently failed to make a debt payment.
The gaming board wants all 14 slots casinos authorized by a 2004 law to be open as soon as possible to generate money for property tax relief. If Foxwoods in Philadelphia doesn't meet the May 2011 deadline, its slots license could be transferred to a different applicant, but Mr. Tuma insisted that Mr. Trujillo wouldn't have a conflict of interest.
"If any new licenses open up for any reason, Mr. Trujillo would obviously not be part of any investment group that applies," Mr. Tuma said. "There would be a whole new application process."
Mr. Rendell said that Mr. Trujillo's career experience, which includes "law, economic development and governmental management ... will be valuable to the Gaming Control Board as it exercises tight regulatory control over gaming."
As city solicitor, Mr. Trujillo ran a 155-lawyer department. He is also a former assistant U.S. attorney and served on the transition teams of Gov.-elect Rendell in 2002 and President-elect Barack Obama in 2008. He has also been on the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which oversees Philadelphia city finances.
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at email@example.com or 717-787-4254.