Back in January 2020, the leading gambling regulators in Pennsylvania had a private meeting with lobbyists for the largest gambling venue in the state, Parx Casino. At the time, the pro-casino campaigners had worked for weeks to make the meeting happen with the executive director and then-Chief Counsel of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) – Kevin O’Toole and Doug Sherman, respectively.
The Parx Casino representatives had been concerned with the watchdog’s no-interference position toward one of its most serious business rivals – the unlicensed and unregulated slots-like machines, also known as skill games – and wanted to change that. Fortunately for the casino, it got what it asked for – following weeks of contemplation, the PGCB sided with Parx Casino, leaving its neutral position behind, in a legal battle in court seeking to declare the state’s skill games illegal.
According to court records, there has been some vigorous lobbying of public officials that the state had rarely seen before. Under the existing laws of Pennsylvania, campaigners are required to report only a bare minimum of information about their activities, without being forced to identify the issue they want local officials to support or name the public officials they approach as part of the lobbying process.
Ongoing Lawsuit Claims Pennsylvanian Gambling Regulator Violated Disclosure Clause by Meeting with Casino Representatives
Recently unveiled information associated with the ongoing legal action has raised some questions about whether the state’s gambling regulatory body should have informed the public about the aforementioned meeting. Under the provisions of the 2004 law that saw gambling authorized in the state of Pennsylvania, the watchdog should not be affected by outside influence and should adopt a rigorous code of conduct.
The aforementioned policy places control on when and how the members and employees of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board are allowed with outsiders, including lawmakers, not to mention lobbyists. Under the provisions of the law, the regulatory body is required to disclose on public logs when watchdog officials have been in contact with outsiders. No such logs involved the meeting that took place on January 17th, 2020, nor the logs have been updated for years.
A spokesperson for the PGCB revealed that the regulatory body’s position is that the meeting it held with lobbyists for Parx Casino did not qualify as a discussion that needed to be reported under the ethics code of the agency. The spokesperson further noted that the meeting had no effect whatsoever on the board’s position on so-called skill games in Pennsylvania and the change of heart was initiated by a number of factors. He also acknowledged that the casino lobbyists sought a meeting with the representatives of the regulatory body to discuss the ongoing legal battle but he rejected the claims that violated the law in any way.
The software developer for the majority of skill games on the territory of Pennsylvania, Pace-O-Matic, has alleged that the state’s gambling watchdog has fallen prey to lobbyists’ pressure and took the agency to court over claims that it targetted its industry. The company is currently involved in several legal battles with the state and others over its ability to continue the operation of its games in Pennsylvania.