Pennsylvania moves to control corruption

The Pennsylvania state legislature is considering a new law designed to better insulate public officials from gambling industry inducements, reports Business Week.

The proposal "sailed through" the state Senate's Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee this week after numerous press conferences and legislative hearings unearthed perceived shortcomings in the state's casino regulation.

The bill seeks to reinstate a stringent ban on cash contributions to political causes by gambling industry executives and investors. This follows a state Supreme Court ruling in April this year in which a former five-year-old similar ban was struck down on grounds that a complete prohibition on contributions went farther in practice than called for.

The new initiative has the support of the government watchdog group, Common Cause Pennsylvania, which counted $4.4 million in political campaign contributions in Pennsylvania from people and groups in the gambling industry beginning in 2001.

"This study helps explain the gaming industry's winning streak in Pennsylvania," said Barry Kauffman, the group's executive director. "And it suggests that gaming interests will go on a giving binge now that they have the chance."

The 51-page bill also seeks to restrict the gaming board's "revolving door" policy, and now requires top and mid-level state employees to wait two years, instead of just one, before working in the gambling industry. The policy would additionally cover lawyers - an aspect that may get scrutiny by the state Supreme Court, which reserves the regulation of lawyers for itself.

Senator Jane Orie, a Republican from Allegheny and a frequent critic of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said: "I think it's a strong message, and I believe we're on the path to restoring public trust."

The bill has the support of other Senate leaders and could pass the chamber this (June 2009) month, but its prospects are less certain in the House, where a bill to legalise table games is pending as a tax contributor to state coffers.

Pennsylvania has eight slot-machine casinos currently operating and another expected to open within weeks. Casino operators have lobbied for the legalisation of table games, saying it will create valuable jobs and make the establishments more competitive with the expanding gambling industries in states along Pennsylvania's borders.

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