The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will get a makeover when Republican Tom Corbett moves into the governor's mansion next month and the GOP takes over both legislative chambers.
The board's mission will also change from an infrastructure- and industry-building body to a regulatory one. In six years of operation, the gaming board has gotten most of the state's casinos up and running. From here on out, though, its main job will to keep those casinos running smoothly.
"From our perspective, the biggest issue going forward will be effective enforcement," said Erik Arneson, spokesman and policy director for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).
December is the current board's last chance to leave its imprint on the Pennsylvania casino industry while still operating under the Rendell administration. It could do so by making two key decisions at its Dec. 16 meeting: Whether or not to revoke the license of the Foxwoods Casino project in South Philadelphia, and whether to award a "resort" license to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County or one of its competitors in the eastern half of the state.
The Foxwoods ruling is arguably one of the most contentious decisions awaiting the gaming board. Awarded one of Philadelphia's two licenses for a slots parlor in 2006, the project has faced intense opposition.
Critics are pressuring the board to strip the project of its license, but the original backers of the casino, including some of Rendell's close allies, have recruited Harrah's to come in as a new operator, investor and developer.
It's now up to the board to decide if they have the financial ability to move forward.
But should it be allowed to make such decisions?
With at least two new gaming board appointments to be made early next year, and a third in mid-2011, "there are some [House Republican caucus] members who feel that this board is kind of a lame duck session, a lame duck board," said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for Rep. Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), the incoming House Speaker.
Miskin also disputed a media report that had been circulating in the Capitol this week, which suggested that the board, and industry, "now faces a major shake-up."
"We're not here to blow anything up," he said.
If anything indeed blows up, it might not come from new gaming board personnel or the new Republican regime in Harrisburg. It might come from a state grand jury investigation, based in Pittsburgh, that is looking into the awarding of casino licenses in the state.
Still, House Republicans, now in charge of their chamber, may choose to make better use of its House Gaming Oversight Committee, "which was nothing more than a rubber stamp that hadn't done any true work" in the years since its formation, Miskin said. That panel might now be used to consider tweaks to the body of law that now governs the casino industry, or to hold hearings on the responsibilities of the control board's Bureau of Investigation.
As for the makeup of the board itself, Corbett will soon be able to tap a new gaming board chair. The current chair, Greg Fajt of Mount Lebanon, was formerly Rendell's chief of staff. He replaced chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins, who replaced Thomas "Tad" Decker, the original board chairman.
Fajt has been on the board since May 2009, and his term is up in July 2011. He will be the first of three gubernatorial appointments that Corbett is called upon to make.
The gaming board is a seven-person panel. Each legislative caucus leader - House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats - gets one appointment each, and the governor gets three appointments.
Gaming board members remain in place until their term expires, "and shall not be removed [from the board] except for good cause."
The three gubernatorial appointments are staggered, and one generally expires each year. In 2011, Fajt's term expires. Kenneth Trujillo was appointed to the gaming board by Rendell in 2009; his term expires in July 2012. And Rendell appointee James B. Ginty's term goes to 2013.
All of the legislative appointments are serving two-year terms set to expire in January 2011, meaning there are four appointments, or reappointments, to be made by the legislative leaders (two of the current board members could be reappointed, by state law):
Ray Angeli was appointed to a two-year term beginning Jan. 20, 2009, by the Senate Democratic leader, so his term will end at the beginning of 2011. He could be reappointed to another term.
Jeff Coy was reappointed to a two-year term in January 2009 by the House Speaker, then a Democrat. He is not eligible for reappointment, so he must be replaced by the new House Democratic leader.
Ken McCabe, appointed by Senate Republicans, also began his current term in January 2009. He, too, is ineligible for reappointment, according to the gaming law term limits.
And House Republicans appointed Gary A. Sojka. His term expires on Jan. 18, but he is eligible for one more term, and could be reappointed.