While political hacks stall, would-be workers go hungry

Sep 9, 2008 7:02 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | We’re not certain if the gaming folks in Las Vegas, outnumbered only by the ‘models’ populating the town, appreciate how fortunate they are to have the regulators they do in their state.

If they grunt and grumble at times, they should take a quick trip to western Pennsylvania, New Castle in particular.

Centaur Gaming, which owns the Hoosier Park racetrack and racino in Anderson, Indiana, and some casino properties in Colorado, began bidding several years ago for the final harness racing license in Pennsylvania. They got it, after a battle that included a change in racing commissions, a court order for the racing commission to reconsider the matter, and a determined wealthy rival who also wanted to build a track, provided the racino went with it.

The racing license was issued by the racing commission a year ago last Friday.

The gaming license needed from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is floating somewhere in outer space, as that board continues what appears to be a never-ending background check on Centaur’s principals.

We do not know how many days a week, or how many hours a day, the board’s investigators work, nor do we know how many there are.

Simple arithmetic says that if there is only one, he has had 8,760 hours, or a mere 2,920 if he only works 8 hours a day, to conduct whatever background checks are needed. I have worked closely with one of the Centaur principals – the one who has represented them in the long and arduous negotiations – but I have received no call asking about him during those 2,920 work hours.

It would seem that if a potential vice president of the United States can be vetted in 24 hours, the principals of a racino should be able to be checked in almost 3,000.

No verdict has been forthcoming, however, although the Control Board holds another meeting this month, and said it may hold "a suitability hearing.’

All of this delay is not merely annoying. It is distressing to the officials of Lawrence County, who see the track, racino and a huge, $400 million entertainment center being planned for the site as a key to prosperity and full employment.

Last week they and Carmen Schick, one of Western Pennsylvania’s wealthier citizens and the man planning to build the entertainment complex, took matters in their own hands. Hoping to shake the Gaming Control Board loose from its lethargy, they organized a public town hall meeting and rally at the site of the proposed track.

There are some cute angles here.

Whatever the Gaming Control Board’s motives are, they know about the employment the project will generate, and they also know that Centaur, operating in a very tight credit market, has passed a deadline from banks that had agreed to finance it. Still they hide behind their "investigation."

Centaur’s former foe, and now ally, Mr. Schick, originally was an applicant for the racing license. When he didn’t get it, he decided to cast his lot with Centaur, and is planning a $400 million indoor water park with hotels, retail shops and condominiums adjacent to the track. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his project could be "the linchpin to this region’s economic recovery." Hopefully the Gaming Control Board reads the Post-Gazette, and acts on the gaming license for Centaur while thousands wait for work in the economically hard-pressed area.

One hundred fifty miles northeast of Lawrence County, a different drama is playing out.

The buffalo played a major role for Indians in the early west in this country, and now Buffalo the city, and the federal government, is giving the Indians there – the Seneca Nation – a hard time.

The Senecas got a plot of downtown Buffalo land declared part of their nation, and built a temporary casino on it. They also started construction on a $333 million permanent structure. Buffalo objects.

In July, a federal judge revoked the Seneca Nation’s authority to operate a temporary casino. The Indians refused to comply or shut it down.

Last week the National Indian Gaming Commission served a "notice of violation" on the Senecas and ordered them to close down the temporary casino within five days or face a $25,000 a day fine.

The Senecas say they have no intention of closing the casino, and have appealed.

Circle the wagons, boys. This one could get rough.