By Greg Fajt
The state Attorney General's Office recently released a grand jury report that is highly critical of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, largely on the basis of events that occurred during the agency's earliest years of operation. The Inquirer has portrayed my comments on the report as dismissive of it and of its recommendations on how the agency and the state gaming law could be improved. That is simply not the case.
The Gaming Control Board, which I chair, recognizes and respects the hard work of the state grand jury, which was investigating possible violations of the law during the establishment of the board and the issuance of gaming licenses. Every member of the board takes the grand jury's report seriously.
My response to the report was not intended to diminish it. Rather, I was trying to emphasize that the information presented to the grand jury and contained in its report does not reflect the current state of the gaming law or of the board.
The board has always acknowledged that mistakes were made as it and its staff worked to launch a new agency and a new gaming industry in the state. And we have never shied away from working to improve our agency and its processes, including by adopting a number of recommendations made in a recent report by the state Auditor General's Department.
In addition, we have worked closely with the General Assembly to improve the state gaming law in a number of ways, including in areas that were addressed by the grand jury. And to the legislature's credit, it made changes to the law last year that not only authorized table games in Pennsylvania, but also instituted important reforms, which:
Assure adequate separation of the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement and its work from the rest of the board.
Prohibit non-bureau involvement that might limit the scope of a background investigation.
Prohibit the bureau from disclosing any portion of a background investigation report to any board member prior to its final submission to the board.
Mandate that the bureau's Office of Enforcement Counsel prepare final background investigation reports to prevent any modification of them before they are submitted to the board.
Extend the prohibition on former board employees' working for a casino from one year to two years after leaving the board, which is the longest such prohibition in state government.
Strengthen the prohibitions on outside communication relating to any matter before the board, as well as the reporting requirements should such ex parte communications occur.
Criminalize the release of confidential information by any current or former board member or employee.
The Gaming Control Board understands the gravity of the grand jury report. It is our mission to protect the integrity of gaming and to assure that our work is transparent to the public. As such, we will work on improvements and, where appropriate, make changes to ensure that legalized gaming will continue to be a safe and profitable venture for Pennsylvania for many years to come.