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Politics

Report: Slots-license seekers gave thousands to PACs, candidates

| Monday, Feb. 27, 2006

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Applicants vying for one of 14 statewide slots-parlor licenses have contributed at least $1.1 million to state candidates and political action committees, according to a published report.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, which conducted an analysis of campaign donations, reported Sunday that roughly half of that total went to key political figures, some of whom also have appointees on the state board in charge of granting the licenses.

The paper found that the biggest beneficiary of gambling money was Gov. Ed Rendell, who received at least $175,160 in 2004 and 2005 from seven groups that are candidates for a slots license.

The 2004 law that created a slot-machine industry in Pennsylvania barred executives of horse racing and gambling companies from making any further political contributions, and contributions from anyone who applies for a slots license.

But the law left open the door for nongambling interests — developers, businessmen and others hoping to get into the industry — to donate before they had applied for the right to open slots parlors. Many applications weren't filed until December 2005.

House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese received at least $68,971 in the last two years, according to the newspaper's analysis. House Speaker John M. Perzel received $56,500, and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Jubelirer received $10,300.

The political action committee of Joseph Hardy and Maggie Magerko, the father-daughter duo who run 84 Lumber Inc., contributed more than $400,000 statewide in the past two years, including $3,970 for a DeWeese fund raiser at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County — part of the family's empire that is now up for a slots license.

Such donations mean that applicants are "buying access — and that access can get you where you want to go," said Alex Knott of Washington-based watchdog group The Center for Public Integrity.

Lynn Swann, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who has criticized gambling on the campaign trail, received a $100,000 check last year from Magerko.

Rendell, Jubelirer, Perzel and DeWeese do not have a vote on who gets a license. But they all have appointments to the gaming board, which will make the final decision. The first conditional approvals for racetracks are expected this summer.

Jubelirer did not respond to requests for comment from the Inquirer.

Hardy is prohibited from holding a financial stake in a slots venue because he is a Fayette County commissioner and is not a partner in the proposed venture. Magerko did not respond to calls from the newspaper.

Rendell has long-standing friendships with his donors that predate gambling, some by decades, said his campaign manager, Tricia Enright.

Several donors with license applications before the state said they have been longtime contributors to Pennsylvania candidates, and that the money they have donated is for ideological reasons — not to help them get a license.

"We give to people we believe can make a difference," said Brian Ratner of Forest City Enterprises Inc., part of the Station Square Gaming group, which is seeking a license in Pittsburgh. "We don't give to get a leg-up."

Since January 2004, Ratner and members of his family have contributed at least $79,504 to candidates.

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