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Casino drafted Pa. ban on skill games competition

Plus, meet a man released under Pa.'s broken 'compassionate release' law. 

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

April 14, 2022 | spotlightpa.org

Casino emails, skill games, campaign cash, leaving prison, Trump's party, PSU investigation, drop box ban, dairy documented, and Pirates payroll. 
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In 2019, state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R., Bucks) introduced a bill to ban skill games, slot-like machines that are unregulated in Pennsylvania.

But before introducing the legislation, Tomlinson’s office asked lobbyists for Parx Casino, a top donor in his district that opposes skill games, to write the language for it.

The measure Tomlinson introduced matched the language provided by the lobbyists nearly word-for-word, Spotlight PA's Angela Couloumbis reports.

This fact was not disclosed to the public and only came to light because of emails exposed as part of an unrelated lawsuit.

Emails to and from the legislature are normally shielded from public scrutiny, as lawmakers exempted themselves from having to reveal electronic communications when they revamped the state’s public records law in the 2000s.

Couloumbis has more on what skill games are, and why they are at the center of a multimillion-dollar fight

Also this week, Spotlight PA breaks down how much the nine GOP candidates for governor have raised — and who exactly is handing over the cash

And finally, Spotlight PA's first primary debate — this one focused on the Republican gubernatorial field — is next Tuesday at 7 p.m. It's not open to the public, but it will be broadcast statewide by PCN and live-streamed online at spotlightpa.org
"He could also sell cocaine and have the same result."

—Dick Gmerek, a lobbyist representing Parx Casino, reacts to a supermarket owner's op-ed on the financial benefits of skill games for his business
» BROKEN RULES: Join us Wednesday, April 20 at 6 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free discussion on Pa.’s medical release law for state prisoners, who the law impacts, and the strain it places on people in prison, their families, and taxpayers. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» Oversight of Pa. addiction recovery homes will begin soon, but operators slow to opt-in

» Pa. election 2022: Tell Spotlight PA what coverage matters to you

» Pennsylvania’s 2022 race for governor: What we know so far

» Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate race: What we know so far
To successfully use Pennsylvania’s ‘compassionate release’ law, he had to choose to die

If Bradford Gamble wanted to leave state prison, he had to decide to die.

He found out about his late-stage cancer diagnosis unceremoniously: A guard dropped a piece of paper into his cell without a word. After months of pain, confusion, and waiting he had answers: metastatic colon cancer that had already spread to his liver.

Gamble spent his entire adult life inside the walls of Pennsylvania state prisons. He was sentenced in 1976 for a murder he committed when he was 19 years old, an action he’s come to deeply regret.

His cancer diagnosis at age 65 gave him an opportunity to use a little-known Pennsylvania law that allows terminally ill people to leave prison, but only if they have less than a year to live. For people serving life, it’s one of the only ways out.

So, Gamble had a decision to make: get treatment to prolong his life and stay in prison, or come home for good and die.

He chose to die. He has six months to a year left to live, he said.

“I'm not even concerned about the time because God, you know, got his hands in that,” he said. “I'm here, and we really need help. … We need somebody to speak up for us.”

Many states have their own versions of “compassionate release” laws that allow older people and those with serious medical issues to leave prison for better care. But in Pennsylvania, the law is so narrowly written it creates a life-or-death decision for people like Gamble.

The process, established in 2009, allows older and sick people to transfer from prison to a hospital or long-term care facility if they have less than a year to live, or to hospice if they are terminally ill and unable to walk. If the person gets better, the Department of Corrections or state prosecutor can ask a court to send them back to prison.

“The statute is drafted so narrowly that it forces you to make decisions like forgoing life-saving treatment in order to get even the possibility of medical transfer,” said Rupalee Rashatwar, an attorney with the Abolitionist Law Project, which represented Gamble in his transfer petition.

Gamble is one of only 33 people who have successfully petitioned to leave prison in the last 13 years because of illness. Two more petitioners have been successful since Spotlight PA published an investigation into the law in March.

Gamble didn’t know about the process until he met an incarcerated activist who helped him scour the prison law library for any means of getting out. They called dozens of state lawmakers, attorneys, and activists on the outside before discovering the compassionate release statute.

Rashatwar filed Gamble’s petition in February. He left state prison in Coal Township nearly three weeks later.

Bradford Gamble now lives with his nephew in West Philadelphia. When he spoke with a Spotlight PA reporter recently, he sat under a wall of art that spelled out “HOME,” surrounded by photos of family that grew up without him. 

“It feels so good just to have that experience and sit here at home with my family and friends,” he said. —Danielle Ohl, Spotlight PA

A full version of this story will appear on spotlightpa.org.

POWER BROKER: Days after endorsing Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. Senate primary — drawing objections from some MAGA faithful — former President Donald Trump exerted his outsize influence on the GOP race for governor with a blistering anti-endorsement of former federal prosecutor Bill McSwain and a phone call that stopped state Sen. Jake Corman from ending his bid, per The Inquirer. 

PSU PREDATOR: ESPN has published a lengthy investigation into former Penn State football player Todd Hodne, whose record of sexual assault and violence predated that of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The article calls Hodne, who died of cancer in 2020 at the age of 61, "perhaps the most dangerous predator ever to play college football." It also details the team's response to his 1978 arrest.

ELECTION RULES: Bills moving through the General Assembly would ban mail ballot drop boxes in Pennsylvania and donations to county elections offices from third-party groups (like this). The donations ban passed the state Senate with a potentially veto-proof margin this week and the drop box ban in a party-line vote, the AP reports. The bills are headed to the state House. Gov. Tom Wolf's office says he is opposed to both. 

FARM HARMS: Acts of animal cruelty documented at a Chambersburg dairy farm by an undercover animal rights activist could set a new legal precedent for anti-cruelty crusaders, Vox reports. Pennsylvania's anti-cruelty statute exempts "normal agricultural operations," and police declined to prosecute the Chambersburg farm. But then Pennsylvania's Superior Court delivered a potentially seismic ruling.

MONEYBALL: Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates have long speculated that the team's owner, Bob Nutting, is hoarding revenue at the expense of on-field talent, giving rise to the "Spend Nutting, Win Nutting" motto. The Post-Gazette dug into the club's finances and found payroll is often covered by ticket and food sales, further fueling fan frustrations. But the team says there are more operational expenses than meet the eye.

» CAPITAL-STAR: Shapiro pressed on death penalty, RGGI support

» REUTERS: Four times as many Pa. Dem voters switched to GOP

» TRIBLIVE: Study says Pa. book ban numbers second-highest in U.S.

» WESA: Questions follow month-long lockdown of Allegheny Co. Jail 

» WHYY: Philadelphia's indoor mask rule to return on Monday

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

SPELLBOUND (Case No. 142)What word starts with "E" and ends with "E" but only has one letter in it?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Eleven (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Annette I., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Dan H., Bill G., Philip C., Jon N., Michael H., James D., Dennis F., Bruce B., Beth T., Fred O., Tish M., Joe S., Mary B., Johnny C., and George S.
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