HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania's casino regulations should be strengthened, and personnel and procedures at the Gaming Control Board should be overhauled, a grand jury said in a report issued yesterday.

The grand jury spent two years investigating how licenses were awarded to casinos and was critical of the process but didn't recommend any criminal charges.

In its 102-page report, the jury made 21 recommendations, among them that the board needs more experienced lawyers and should sharply limit the number of secret meetings it holds.

The board "failed to thoroughly protect the public from unlawful gaming practices; failed to maximize potential new revenue to the commonwealth to support property-tax relief," the report said.

The licensing process "became preoccupied, fixated and singularly focused" on fairness to applicants "at the expense of adequately protecting the citizens of the commonwealth."

Much of the grand-jury findings explored the process of granting licenses to casinos in Erie and the Poconos, pointing out the close relationship that sometimes existed among the applicants, lawmakers and the casino agency.

Former board communications director Nick Hayes testified that at least five people who were hired because of political connections "ended up getting arrested or investigated for conduct that he ultimately had to try to explain to the public."

Citing the fact that no criminal charges were recommended, the gaming board responded to the grand-jury report with a statement calling its own efforts an "unmitigated success."

"After this grand jury met for more than two years, there were no arrests, no presentments, no indictments," board chairman Greg Fajt said. "They found no criminal activity because there was, in fact, no criminal activity to be found."