Let's see a show of hands. Everyone who is not part-owner of a casino or casino-related business in Pennsylvania, raise your hand.
Is it just me or does every politician, every lobbyist, every son or daughter of a politician or a lobbyist own a share of the casinos coming to Pennsylvania? How did that happen?
Why didn't anybody ask me if I wanted to be part-owner of a casino?
Act 71 of 2004, which authorized 14 slots venues with a total of 61,000 slot machines, remains one of the worst bills ever passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell, the prime mover (along with his good friend John Perzel) behind bringing gambling to the Keystone State.
I always like to remind people that the casino bill was passed by 88 Democrats in the House (of the total 94 Democrats), with only 25 Republicans (of a total 109) voting in favor of the bill. So yes, it was Rendell and his Democratic lemmings who brought gambling to Pennsylvania.
How bad is the gambling bill, which as approved in the middle of the night without public hearings or public input?
It's bad enough that members of the state Legislature snuck a provision into the law that allows them to own a 1 percent share in casinos.
It's bad enough that all sorts of political cronies have been appointed to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board or have been hired for one of the cushy jobs available at the gaming board.
It's bad enough that a big-time lobbyist used the names of his "minor children" as casino owners to circumvent the law preventing him from being a direct owner.
Now we hear that former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mark S. Singel, a political consultant and lobbyist, is being forced to sever his ties with a company seeking a license to distribute slot machines in Pennsylvania.
Does everybody in Harrisburg have his hand in the cookie jar?
Sixteen companies have been licensed as slots distributors so far and there’s another six firms under review. One of them, Revenco Gaming, had Single on its payroll, but hasn't been able to get approval from the Gaming Board.
Singel wrote the Gaming Board saying that he would no longer serve as a member and director of Revenco, based in Westmoreland County.
"I came to the conclusion that if in fact I ... was drawing too much of the attention and causing a problem for this new potential business, that I should step aside," Singel told the Associated Press Friday. "It's just troublesome to me that somebody who spends a good portion of their life devoted to public service somehow is considered unsuitable or questionable."
Let's just say that Revenco probably hired Singel because of his political background (lieutenant governor from 1987 to 1995 under Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr.) rather than his expertise with slot machines.
It's not the first time politics has gotten in the way of commerce in Pennsylvania's convoluted run to cash in on casinos. The Associated Press noted that one of the licensed distributors — New Century Entertainment, whose partners included former Allegheny County chief executive Jim Roddey — announced Tuesday that it was giving up its license, alleging that it had been shut out of doing business by "politics" and unnamed manufacturers.
I wrote a column shortly after the Legislature approved Rendell’s casino plan in July 2004 saying it was one of the biggest mistakes in Pennsylvania history. The consequences would not be realized until years later, but casinos would be the ruin of Pennsylvania.
That column, "Tony Soprano has friends in Pennsylvania," also hinted at organized crime's influence on casinos. In hindsight, I may have overestimated the mob’s influence on gambling. It's not the Mafia that worries me now. It's the politicians. The state's political elite are going to get rich from casinos. The rest of us will end up paying a steep price.
The state Legislature should take the advice of CasinoFreePa, a statewide coalition of groups and individuals opposing casino gambling in Pennsylvania, which has the following comment posted on its Web site: "The worse the law, the sooner it should be repealed."
Another screaming headline on www.casinofreepa.org is: "No one asked us!"
Barring a repeal of gambling by the Legislature (highly unlikely because so many politicians stand to make a fortune), the only other option Pennsylvania residents have is to vote out Ed Rendell and the Democrats who supported gambling in the November election.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at firstname.lastname@example.org