Thursday, February 1, 2007

Gaming Control Board Releases Decision

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has, according to a story in the Post-Gazette, released their written decision awarding Pittsburgh's sole slots casino license to PITG gaming. Officially, the release of this document starts a 30-day clock in which the two losing applicants, Isle of Capri and Forest City, can file an appeal of the decision. But it seems rather unlikely that either one will do so.

The short story here is that the PGCB simply was unimpressed with Isle of Capri's (IOC) offer to build a new arena for Pittsburgh. Plan B, crafted with the support of (and cheerleading by) Governor Rendell, County Executive Onorato, and Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl, took a lot of wind out of IOC's sails. But so did a lot of other factors. For some reason, IOC was unable to convince the board that their agreement with the Penguins would lock the Penguins into staying here in Pittsburgh. The sudden collapse of the deal to sell the Penguins franchise to Jim Balsillie, just days before the PGCB was to announce its decision, also made them think that the IOC arena deal simply wasn't enough to guarantee that the Penguins would stay in town.

Perhaps the single biggest factor is this decision, at least from Pittsburgh's perspective, was that the statutory mandate given to the Gaming Control Board -- the instructions that they used to make this decision -- simply didn't give enough weight to issues such as the new arena. As the Board's decision puts it:

The responsibility for keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh does not fall upon the Board under the Act. The Act, which the Board believes bears repeating in light of the emphasis placed on arena funding, has a primary objective of protecting the public through the regulation of gaming. ... While the Board is not unsympathetic to Pittsburgh’s hockey fans who fear the Penguins moving to another locale or to the local businesses which benefit from the Penguin’s [sic] presence, the Board is not beholden to award a license upon that basis if the Board believes, in its sole discretion, that another project is better for gaming, the Commonwealth and the public based upon all of the factors considered under the Act. Such is the case here in which the Board does not weigh the evidence of economic development associated with the IOC proposal to be of such magnitude that it outweighs the benefits associated with PITG Gaming’s project. [emphasis in original]
Like a plane crash, the IOC loss cannot be traced to any one factor alone. All of these things had to happen in concert for Pittsburgh's dream of a "free" (it really wasn't) arena to go down the tubes.

About the only thing that really steams me about this situation -- well, apart from Interim Mayor Ravenstahl's flip-flopping with his sudden support for Plan B -- is the role of state legislators in this situation. On one hand, they crafted and voted for the legislation which guided the PGCB's decision. And then, after the Board adheres to rules that they gave it, a select group of these same people -- most notably State Senator Wayne Fontana and Governor Ed Rendell -- ride into town promising to "save the Pens" by negotiating a "Plan B" (or is it "Plan C"?) deal. If they had just been thinking when they wrote, voted for, and signed the law which told the Board how to make this decision, Plan B would never have been necessary.

If you take the time to read the actual text of the decision, it's hard not to agree with the Gaming Control Board. The rules that they were given by their enabling legislation simply didn't allow them to give much weight to external economic and regional concerns such as the Penguins' presence in Pittsburgh. The PGCB wasn't given the job of building an arena or even giving much thought to the Penguins, and -- true to our region's union-dominated traditions -- they simply walked away when a job needed to be done, saying, "Hey, that wasn't in our contract".

I imagine that at some point in the next few days, there will be a big happy announcement. All the players -- Rendell, Fontana, Onorato, Ravenstahl, and a cast of a thousand other hangers-on -- will be there, smiling and shaking hands for the cameras. They will tell us how they saved the Pittsburgh Penguins. But we shouldn't forget that at least a few of the faces congratulating themselves for having solved this crisis were directly responsible for creating it in the first place.


Bram Reichbaum said...

The very first Comet post deals with how I thought this issue must have brokend down. Thank you for the link to the report, such that I can compare notes.

Anonymous said...

No doubt, if there's good news to be published, the boys will wait until a better news cycle than Friday night.

Nice article - notice how the boys are pushing Lukey forward to handle local press? He's hoping that people will forget his flippy-floppiness, we won't.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Adm, I've been meaning to ask you -- would you call yourself a conservative Republican? I ask because I know Limbaugh mockingly refers to places like Chicago and Louisiana "People's Republics."

Richmond K. Turner said...

The whole "People's Republic" thing just came to me in a flash as I was picking the blog's name. I can assure you that -- unless it was somehow buried in the subconcious of my very warped mind -- the name was not inspired by Rush Limbaugh.

I just thought that Pittsburgh has some astonishing similarities to your stereotypical bannana republic. It has elections, but everybody already knows who's going to win before the polls even open. Most of the people who win the "elections" tend to somehow come from the a very small number of families, who pass their power down from generation to generation. The economy sucks. The city misses out on all the beneficial trends that take place nationwide. And the people are very easily distracted by the exploits of the state-run athletic teams.

OK, not that last bit. The Steelers aren't really state-run. Instead, they own us. But still, it's strikingly similar. I keep waiting for Ravenstahl to declare himself "Mayor for Life" and surrond the City-County building with his own cabal of heavily armed (and recently-promoted) police officers wearing combat fatigues and carrying AK-47s.

It has happened. Yet.

But to answer your question, I guess I would describe myself as a frustrated conservative and a recovering Republican. I grew up in a Republican household in the red (or redneck) portion of central Pennsylvania, and I held onto to my support for the GOP until this current president started spending money like a drunken sailor (having acutally benn a drunken sailor on a few occasions, I know it when I see it) while refusing to raise the money necessary to pay for his adventures.

At that point, it became clear that, whatever I was, it wasn't a member of the Republican party. And after looking around locally, it was equally clear that I couldn't be a member of the Democratic party either.

So "conservative" I would call fairly accurate. But to call me "Republican" would be quite a bit of a stretch at this point.

Anonymous said...

Dude, the gaming control board's decision really did seem reasonable.

They rightly considered issues beyond arena-funding -- which might not have kept the Pens in town even if the board had gone with Isle of Capri.

Instead, they evaluated the peasantry's mundane quality-of-life concerns -- traffic patterns, parking, whether existing infrastructure can support the hydra-like needs of an enormous pleasure-dome. Oh, and there was also the minor matter of the fact that the neighborhood where it was to be sited violently opposed the Isle of Capri, by a ratio of something like 100 public comments against it for every comment in favor. (Did anyone think the Hill District was just going to forget its history of mutilation at the hands of swank entertainment complexes and craptastic city-planning?)

The board made a point of belaboring -- at some length -- the fact that they were impressed with the North Shore proposal because the guy behind it bothered to take the review process seriously. It sounded as if the Isle of Capri people totally slacked on all the prep-work and study necessary to prove their site's viability. Should we give fat contracts to unpopular mediocrities just because the city loves its sport?

Richmond K. Turner said...

You are spot-on right about the PGCB making the right decision, given the rulebook that they were given. Indeed, I was pretty sure that I had said exactly that in the original post. Maybe I didn't make it clear enough, but still the key point is that you and I are in agreement.

I also noticed the negative-to-positive ratio in the public comments, and it really caught my eye. I can't believe that the Penguins and IOC didn't see that one coming. It was a real boneheaded move on their part. They should have been organizing an enormous letter-writing campaign among their fans. A few TV commercials, a little encouragement from sports radio hosts, a reminder on the back of every ticket, and a few announcements on the PA system during the games would have been all it took to win the public comment battle.

There's almost no doubt in my mind that, across the region as a whole, IOC had far more public support than either of the other proposals. But that wasn't reflected at all in the public comments to the PGCB, and that was the only measure of public support that the board was allowed to pay attention to.

Barden truly had his shit together on this one, and he deserved to win for that reason alone.

Thanks for commenting!