Supplier wannabes have familiar names
Some familiar names are lining up for a piece of the slots action.
Among the almost two dozen applicants seeking licenses from the gambling board to provide machines to casinos:
â€¢ Gaming Ventures, LLC, of Pittsburgh, includes former Steeler James "J.T." Thomas; former Pittsburgh Councilman Sala Udin; investment banker James Lawrence Smith, a nephew of the late Allegheny County Commissioner Peter Flaherty; and CEO Mark Douglas Lay, of MDL Capital Management. His company is fighting civil allegations that it lost more than $200 million from Ohio's Bureau of Workers Compensation.
â€¢ New Century Entertainment of Pittsburgh includes former Allegheny County Executive James Roddey; WQED Multi-media President George Miles Jr.; Doris Carson Williams, chairwoman for the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania; and Neely T. Frye, former aide to House Speaker John Perzel.
â€¢ Revenco Gaming of North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, is headed by former acting Gov. Mark Singel, now a lobbyist. Other members include James Sacco, executive director of PSSI, the management firm that operates Heinz Field; New Castle businessman John Richard DiMuccio; and Gary and Raymond Stoken, principals in Stoken Games, a local amusement firm that deals in coin-operated machines.
â€¢ In Philadelphia, CGR Gaming includes Pennsylvania Turnpike Chairman Mitchell Jay Rubin, whose wife, Ruth Arnao, is a former aide to state Sen. Vincent Fumo, the powerful Philadelphia Democrat and an architect of the slots law.
â€¢ KGM Gaming of Philadelphia includes Robert N. Nix III, son of late Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert N.C. Nix, the state's first black justice. KGM Gaming scored an exclusive distributor deal with Aristocrat Technologies 18 months ago.
â€¢ Liberty Gaming Partners in suburban Philadelphia includes powerhouse lobbyist Stephen R. Wojdak, a former lawmaker. Another partner is Brett Alan Sulzer, a Louisiana businessman with the gambling industry there.
â€¢ Atlantic City Coin & Slot Service, the New Jersey supplier that distributes slot machines for gaming giant IGT in New Jersey, is poised to export its expertise to Pennsylvania. The company is a partner in Pennsylvania Coin & Slot, a would-be Bucks County supplier whose principals also include Denise Joy Smyler, an attorney Gov. Ed Rendell appointed to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Board.
Bill Thompson, a University of Nevada at Las Vegas professor who studies gambling, is not surprised.
"Industry lobbyists have been pumping money into Pennsylvania politicians for the last five years," he said.
Critics claim the legal requirement of a Pennsylvania distributor is designed to reward lawmakers' friends. They contend the proviso ultimately will add to casino costs because the licensees will need to find a manufacturer to produce the machines.
Fumo, prime author of the slots legislation, insisted political connections could mean little.
"There's not a limited number of licenses. So they all can get them," Fumo said. "It was designed to give a piece to small people. You are always going (to have) politically friendly people in every damn business. And it doesn't mean they are going to get any edge up."
The money involved is significant. The state is expected to authorize 61,000 slot machines, each of which costs about $15,000. That's a pool of $900 million.
But if the suppliers -- who market, sell and service the slot machines -- snare even 5 percent of that $900 million, they stand to divvy $45 million dollars, Thompson said.
Many applicants are reluctant to discuss the issues surrounding the gambling board.
"I know a lot more people applied than they expected, and it takes them a long time to background people," said Udin, spokesman for Gaming Ventures Group.