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‘Cross-breeding’ still okay in gaming family

Jul 1, 2003 7:23 AM

The news in Chicago last week was that Phil Parenti, administrator of the Illinois Gaming Control Board, was quitting and moving to Las Vegas.

Parenti, appointed by former governor George Ryan, was not exactly a destitute civil servant. He was making $160,000 a year.

What would draw him to Las Vegas?

For one thing, "a substantial raise," he said.

Over $160,000 a year? For what?

Well ”” and don’t let this surprise or shock you ”” for a job as a vice president with Harrah’s Entertainment.

It didn’t surprise the Rev. Tom Grey, who leaves Illinois frequently to stump around the country as a latter day Susan Anthony, ranting about the evils of gambling. He is the loudest and most vociferous of that tribe, ready to drop a telling sound bite at the slightest provocation.

Parenti’s cushy new job provoked Grey, because in his previous incarnation Parenti had drawn criticism for pushing for a $600 million deal that would have had MGM Mirage buy the ill-fated Emerald Casino, still a hot potato in Chicago.

In his new life in Las Vegas he will be representing Harrah’s, which has expressed interest in the Emerald license as well.

"Now you have an administrator that pushed for an Emerald deal working for the industry," Grey complained, loudly. What’s the public supposed to think? This doesn’t pass the smell test."

Parenti doesn’t seem to care what the public thinks, given that "substantial raise." He said government workers often move into the private sector. And the other way around, of course. Take a look at who is vice president of the United States, and ask Halliburton if it has harmed them.

One Chicago area newspaper noted that this is old hat in Chicago, pointing out that former gambling board administrator Joseph McQuaid became an executive at Emerald, former board attorney Donna More now is the lawyer for several Illinois casinos, and former deputy administrator Tom Swoik now is the executive director of the Illinois Gaming Casino Association that represents nine casinos in the state.

It is worth noting that gaming board rules in Illinois preclude officials who leave from having any involvement in the operation of Illinois casinos for one year. A release by the board last week said Parenti will have no involvement in any effort by Harrah’s to acquire more Illinois casinos, presumably including the Emerald, or what’s left of it.

Parenti told the Chicago suburban Daily Herald that the Emerald had consumed much of his time while running the control board, but that he did other things too, like collecting the largest gaming fine in Illinois history, a $3.2 million settlement from the Grand Victoria in Elgin for allegedly giving contracts to mob-linked vendors. And he launched a program allowing problem gamblers to ban themselves from the state’s casinos.

That apparently did not entirely satisfy Illinois’ new crusading governor, Rod Blagojevich. His office, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, was talking about stopping future Parenti-like moves by ethics reforms that the governor plans to present to the General Assembly this fall. Considering the fact that he got them to go along on a tax hike for Illinois riverboats from 50% to 70%, a bill that he signed into law last week, he might get the job done. Parenti may not think the move to Harrah’s is disturbing, but Blagojevich does, his spokeswoman telling the Sun-Times, "This is an example of the type of disturbing trend we would like to end."

The Illinois Gaming Board rules that prohibit association with Illinois gaming operations for a year after leaving office include a line that includes employment "by any entity or individual that, in the judgment of the board, could represent the potential for a conflict of interest."

I’m not sure what Phil Parenti will be doing in Las Vegas for Harrah’s that circumvents that clause ”” maybe he’ll be a reviewer for the new nude shows ”” but apparently no one but Rod Blagojevich cares. Let’s hope he doesn’t get mad and raise the tax on riverboats to 80%.

I wouldn’t push the guy too hard. Tom Grey can talk without results, but Rod Blagojevich has a big stick, and clearly isn’t afraid to use it.