The state treasurer won an important ruling Friday that advanced his argument for being allowed inside the closed-door sanctum of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
In a 6-0 decision, Commonwealth Court determined that Treasurer Robert McCord's petition to gain access to executive sessions of the board had merit and could proceed.
State gaming law allows the treasurer to serve as a nonvoting "ex officio" member of the gaming board, but does not specify whether that applies to private sessions as well as public hearings.
The gaming board has barred McCord from attending executive sessions, prompting the treasurer to ask the court in May to clarify his role.
In July, the board tried to thwart the petition by filing objections on the ground that executive sessions should be kept private to keep politics out of gaming proceedings. The treasurer is an elected official who can accept campaign contributions, including from representatives of gaming interests, the gaming board argued.
Executive sessions give the board's seven members an opportunity to privately discuss confidential matters such as business and legal strategy or negotiations with legal advisers.
Friday's decision overrules the board's objections and allows the matter to continue moving through the courts.
In the decision, President Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter wrote, "This controversy is ripe for review."
McCord said he had "an important role to play on this board, and I intend to play it."
"The court has recognized my status as a member of the gaming board," he said in a statement after the ruling. "Now it's up to the board to decide if it wants to continue this pointless fight."
The gaming board will be reviewing its next step, Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement.
Harbach said the board remained "troubled" by the thought that a politician who takes campaign contributions from representatives of the gaming industry could participate in the deliberative process of the board with respect to those same interests.
"That plainly could jeopardize the statutorily mandated independence of the board," Harbach said.
The gaming board, appointed by the governor and legislature, regulates all things pertaining to Pennsylvania casinos.