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From the archives 2021

Top Pa. senator appoints colleague’s wife to lucrative Gaming Control Board seat

by Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA |

Since its inception in 2004, the Gaming Control Board, which oversees slots and casino gambling in the state, has often hosted high-profile names in Pennsylvania politics and government, including ex-state lawmakers.
Kent M. Wilhelm / For Spotlight PA

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HARRISBURG — The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate has quietly appointed the spouse of a colleague to a coveted spot on the state’s Gaming Control Board, raising questions anew about whether the regulatory panel has become a lucrative landing ground for the politically connected.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) named Frances “Fran” Regan to serve a two-year term on the board, a plum appointment in Harrisburg circles because, at a $145,000 annual salary, it is one of the higher-paid positions in state government.

Regan, who is married to Sen. Mike Regan (R., York), was sworn in Monday, with little fanfare inside the Gaming Control Board’s office, according to board officials.

Unlike with several previous appointments, there was no press release announcing her selection — her name simply appeared on the board’s website. When asked for Regan’s resume, board officials initially said they did not have one. Late Tuesday, they provided a biography for Regan, which says that she served with the federal probation office for more than 24 years conducting background and criminal investigations.

For the past six years, she has been a small business owner, holding public and private fitness classes to empower women and their personal safety.

Frances Regan could not immediately be reached.

In an interview Tuesday, Corman said he chose Regan because of her background in law enforcement. Being related to a public official should not disqualify her from the position, said Corman, adding that he interviewed just under a half dozen people for the job.

“Just because your husband is involved in public service doesn’t mean you shouldn’t,” he said, adding that Frances Regan is a friend and he wants someone in that job who he can trust.

Since its inception, the board, which oversees slots and casino gambling in the state, has often hosted high-profile names in Pennsylvania politics and government, including ex-state lawmakers. When legislators legalized casino gambling in 2004, they gave the governor the ability to name three members to the board. The four Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate each get one appointment.

The board now oversees an industry that, in 2019, raked in $3.4 billion in revenue, according to the Gaming Control Board. Even during the pandemic, the combined revenue of slot machines, table games, sports wagering, iGaming, video gaming terminals, and fantasy contests totaled $2.6 billion.

Of the 31 people who have been named to the Gaming Control Board since 2004, 16 have either served in state government or legislative jobs, or have been state lawmakers themselves, according to an analysis by Spotlight PA.

Just last month, longtime state Rep. Frank Dermody, the former top Democrat in the state House who lost reelection last year, was tapped by House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia to serve on the board.

Dermody, a onetime prosecutor who served in the legislature for 30 years, became the fourth ex-House Democrat to snag a spot on the board, which includes two other former lawmakers.

For Dermody and other lawmakers, the appointment is more than just a well-paid job — it ultimately could help to boost their future pension earnings. In Pennsylvania, those are calculated using a formula that takes into account a person’s highest three years of salary. And the Gaming Control Board pays significantly more than what rank-and-file lawmakers, as well those in leadership, earn every year.

Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said it is up to public officials like Corman to explain their picks. And when it comes to political appointments, like ones to the Gaming Control Board and other statewide panels, the bar should be even higher.

“You would expect a clear case to be made,” said Borick, “about why you are the person to add value to an important board. That is the missing link. You don’t see that anymore.”

Frances Regan’s husband, Mike Regan, was elected to the Senate in 2016 and reelected to a second four-year term in 2020. His name has been bandied about in political circles as a potential Republican candidate for governor, although the Central Pennsylvania lawmaker has not publicly announced any intention to run for higher office. In 2022, two key political spots — the governor’s office, and one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats — are up for grabs.

Frances Regan replaced outgoing board member Merritt Reitzel, who was appointed by Corman’s predecessor, Republican Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County. At the time, her appointment drew scrutiny because Reitzel was the sister-in-law of Scarnati’s then-chief of staff.

The state Senate has since hired Reitzel to serve as a lawyer to the committee that oversees gaming regulations, according to Corman.

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