Federal indictments of dog track officials in Rhode Island could have far reaching implications should, as expected, anti-gamers use the charges as a way of warning voters to reject gaming proposals.
Charged by federal officials who conducted a 20-month investigation were Dan Bucci, CEO and general manager of Lincoln Greyhound Park, and his boss, Nigel Potter, chief executive of Wembley PLC, the U.K.-based owner of the track. They are alleged to have concocted a scheme to bribe the then speaker of the House ex-Rep. John Harwood and face a 22-count federal indictment on conspiracy and wire fraud charges.
At the time, the track was involved in supporting legislation that would have boosted the number of video lottery machines to be authorized by the Rhode Island Lottery Commission for operation at the dog track. The feds said the track schemed to pay Harwood’s Pawtucket law firm, which he operated with his cousin, Daniel V. McKinnon, up to $4.5 million over six years to get his political muscle behind the additional slots proposal.
Conviction could result in prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to $250,000 on each charge.
In England, Wembley, a publicly traded company, issued a statement in which it called the Harwood payment "a possible bonus or retainer to Lincoln Park’s long-standing external legal attorney in Rhode Island. (But) no payment was approved and no payment was ever made, and we remain of the view that these allegations are without foundation."
Immediately questioned was the track’s operating license, since the state relies strongly on the more than $130 million the track generates in state revenue. Also, involved would be some 800 employees.
Regulatory officials said that they considered the charges to be serious but that no action would be taken until the prosecutions go forward. Meanwhile, Bucci’s assistant, Craig Sculos, would "assume overall responsibility" for the operation of the track and the slots.
The indictments are sure to play a major role in Wembley’s attempt to get slot machines at its four racetracks in Colorado. The issue will be a referendum item on the November ballot.
In fact, the Rhode Island investigation was triggered by charges from two former Wembley employees who said they were fired for refusing to approve the Harwood contract. They sued for wrongful termination and eventually settled the case.
Harwood, who left his post when his term expired, has not been charged with wrongdoing. And, ironically, the 2003 legislative bodies approved the 1,300 gaming machines for Lincoln dog track.