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Player's Advantage

Udin's group gets supplier license

| Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006

A group that includes former Pittsburgh Councilman Sala Udin won a license Wednesday to sell slot machines in Pennsylvania despite his 35-year-old criminal record for vehicle offenses, firearms violations, robbery and receiving stolen goods.

The state Gaming Control Board awarded supplier licenses to Gaming Ventures, Udin's group based Downtown, and to Winner Security of Sharon, Mercer County, which has no connection to the Udin group. Under state law, casinos must purchase slot machines through middleman companies rather than manufacturers.

"It doesn't surprise me when our law actually allows certain felons to have a casino license," said Dianne Berlin, coordinator of CasinoFreePA, a coalition of casino opponents. "It seems that no standards are too low for this gaming board."

Udin's offenses occurred so long ago that state law did not automatically prohibit him from receiving a gambling license. It only prohibits license holders who have felony or gambling convictions within the past 15 years.

Udin will have a pardon hearing next month at which he can seek to have his record wiped clean.

He referred questions yesterday to Gregory Spencer, Gaming Ventures' chairman, who was not available for comment.

That Udin's group received a license undermines the industry's image and points to yet another flaw in the law, gambling critics said.

State Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks County, opposes slots and said he likely will send the control board a letter of complaint about its decision to award Udin's group a license. The involvement of anyone previously convicted of a crime could cause people to question the integrity of gambling in Pennsylvania, Clymer said.

"Gambling itself is not a pure industry by any stretch," he said. "It goes back to Las Vegas. It goes back to organized crime. ... It has a history of crime itself, and it will in Pennsylvania."

Other Gaming Ventures partners include former Steelers defensive back James "J.T." Thomas; investment banker James Lawrence Smith, a nephew of the late Allegheny County Commissioner Peter Flaherty; and Mark Douglas Lay, CEO of MDL Capital Management, a Downtown company fighting civil allegations that it lost more than $200 million from Ohio's Bureau of Workers Compensation.

Udin, CEO of the Coros Center for Civic Leadership, sought the supplier license under his legal name, Samuel Wesley Howze.

Udin applied for a pardon July 8, 2004, four days after the Legislature passed the gambling law. But his attorney said last month that Udin's desire to erase his criminal past has nothing to do with his involvement in a supplier company.

In his pardon application, Udin wrote that his "responsible, productive contributions to the community have clearly demonstrated that I am a changed man," and that his criminal record limits his "ability to achieve my highest potential."

Udin served three terms as a City Council member from 1995 to 2005.

Gambling regulators have approved supplier licenses for 18 companies.

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