Pennsylvania bureaucrat denies
the public’s right to know

Sep 26, 2006 4:58 AM

A tough guy with the mild-mannered name of Tad Decker raised hell last week about slots in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Decker can do more than make noise, since he is the chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which this Wednesday — after two years of monkeying around — will issue the first racino licenses to Pennsylvania’s six racetracks.

One of those racinos is scheduled for The Meadows, the picturesque harness track located in Meadowlands, Penn., just south of Pittsburgh, not to be confused with the giant New Jersey track across the Hudson river from New York City.

The Meadows was purchased not too long ago for $225 million or so by Bill Paulos and Bill Wortman, who own the Cannery Casino and operate the Rampart Casino in this fair city. They bought The Meadows as Millennium Gaming, with partners.

Mr. Paulos flew to Harrisburg last week to outline Millennium’s plans for Mr. Decker and his six Control Board colleagues, and he and Decker got into a difference of opinion as to what The Meadows’ racino would produce annually.

The difference was significant. About a hundred million dollars significant.

Mr. Paulos used some pricey and well-known consultants to arrive at his estimate of well over $200 million a year.

Mr. Decker said that couldn’t be right, because his consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers, had prepared a commissioned report showing the number to be $115 million or so.

When journalists asked Mr. Decker if they could have the state’s report for their stories, the defiant Mr. Decker said no. He got into what the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review called "a heated exchange with reporters," telling the newsmen, "You can make all the damn arguments you want. You’re not getting it. It’s proprietary. File your lawsuit. File your Rights-to-Know request."

A lawyer and a successful business executive, Decker told the House Republican Policy Committee the next day that the report contains proprietary information and said it could be a crime to reveal it. He said the public had no right to see it, although they paid for it. PricewaterhouseCoopers said they had no restrictions on clients releasing their reports. Other lawyers said Decker’s arguments were nonsense. But Decker insisted that no court or regulatory body would allow his Board to release the study, and he said he did not intend to do so.

Public advocates and others, including the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, who appointed Decker to his cushy job, thought the report should be released. Some politicians and others suggested strongly that it must contain things Decker didn’t want the public to see.

The governor obviously could demand, if he chose, that his Control Board chairman release the report, but he did not choose to go that far. If he had, Decker would have been under considerable pressure to either issue it or resign.

There was an implied threat aired, during the presentation by Paulos, that Millennium’s racino license could be delayed this week until the Control Board could "straighten out" the discrepancies in the numbers submitted by the consultants. If that happened, it would delay Millennium’s plans to tear down The Meadows, now 40 years old, and build a new state-of-the-art facility.

It also would delay monies to the state of Pennsylvania to be used for property tax relief, which is what Gov. Rendell promised in his tough battle to get the slots legislation passed.

It even could delay the substantial salaries paid to Mr. Decker and his colleagues. Now there’s a possibility that might get the disputed report released. The punished and put-upon public might like that one.