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Emails reveal lawmaker’s cozy casino industry ties

Plus, Oz nets potentially game-changing U.S. Senate nod.


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April 11, 2022
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Ready-made bill, Trump endorses Oz, Shapiro Q&A, Dem defections, proof of ID, long lockdown, and we're talkin' baseball. It's Monday.
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When GOP state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson announced a 2019 push to ban unregulated slot-like "skills games" in Pennsylvania, he did so with legislation ghostwritten by lawyers and lobbyists for the state's top-earning casino — one with a direct interest in stifling the growing source of competition.

The connection was revealed in emails that were exposed by an ongoing lawsuit and obtained by Spotlight PA, offering a rare glimpse of the reach that lobbyists enjoy in the state legislature and a behind-the-scenes look at the bare-knuckle fight over expanding gambling statewide.

The emails show that lobbyists for Parx Casino, which is located in Tomlinson's Bucks County district, also joined strategy sessions with his office and drafted talking points and other documents for the office to use.

Tomlinson says he and his staff spoke with multiple government agencies and industries with a vested interest in the issue and that he had the final say over the language of the bill — the last version of which matched the draft provided by Parx's lobbyists and lawyers almost word-for-word.

THE CONTEXT: Good-government groups say the increasingly common practice of letting special interests draft bills presents obvious conflicts of interest and harms public confidence in the legislative process.

In this case, the public may never have known if it wasn't for a federal lawsuit filed by a Georgia-based skills games developer. (That's because lawmakers exempted themselves from having to reveal electronic communications when they revamped the state's public records law in the 2000s.)

The lawsuit from Georgia's Pace-O-Matic alleges the Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott law firm engaged in the legal equivalent of double-dipping by representing both it and Parx Casino simultaneously.

Since legalizing slot machines in 2004, Pennsylvania has significantly expanded acceptable forms of gambling here, but skills games remain unauthorized under the law and a source of controversy.

Spotlight PA explains the multimillion-dollar industry fight here.
Investigations like our latest project looking at the cozy ties between a state lawmaker and casino industry lobbyists cost thousands of dollars to produce. And we can only keep digging with your support

Invest in the truth, the facts, and the future of our state by making a gift now.

"We also need conservative eyes and ears in the schools. If anyone can substitute even one day a week, the teachers who are activists and indoctrinating children can be revealed."

State Rep. Barb Gleim (R., Cumberland) in a CRT-focused Facebook comment that her Democratic opponent called an insult to teachers
» BROKEN RULES: Join us Thursday, April 14 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 here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Philadelphia's All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors as seen by yours truly on a recent visit to the city's Logan Square. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
COVETED NOD: Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania's GOP primary for U.S. Senate, a potentially game-changing nod in a crucial contest. The endorsement drew groans in some conservative circles, including from Trump's original favorite in the race, Sean Parnell, who dropped out amid allegations of spousal abuse that he denies. Meanwhile, ABC News reports Oz has invested millions in big tech and big pharma while criticizing both, and CNN fact-checks a misleading claim about his ties to a "defund the police" group.

ONE-ON-ONE: Pennsylvania Attorney General and lone Democratic candidate for governor Josh Shapiro was pressed on his record as Pennsylvania's top cop in a wide-ranging interview with the Capital-Star. The conversation covered Shapiro's position on the death penalty — he expects to continue a statewide moratorium — and his outlook and record on clemency. Shapiro was also asked to clarify his position on a cornerstone of Gov. Tom Wolf's climate change agenda.  

PARTY PIVOT: For every Republican that became a Democrat in Pennsylvania in the past year, four Democrats went the other way. It's not a guarantee of the GOP's political fortunes in this year's midterms, but Reuters calls it a "warning sign" for Democrats in a key swing state. The outlet talked to some of the voters who switched to the GOP. Most were already voting that way and changed their affiliation to match. Registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans statewide.

ID SEARCH: Schuylkill County's coroner says DNA samples from surviving relatives will be needed to confirm the identities of four men and two women killed in a massive weather-related pileup on I-81 near Pottsville last month. Two victims are believed to have been from Montgomery County. The others are believed to have been from out of state. All six were in vehicles that caught fire at the scene.

LOCKDOWN: Allegheny County Jail was on full lockdown for the entire month of March, WESA reports, and observers say that may be a violation of voter-approved limits on solitary confinement there. The jail's warden says the lockdown was COVID-19-related and allowed. But members of the jail's oversight board question the length of the lockdown and whether less-draconian options were considered.
PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE: Ketanji Brown Jackson will soon be the only public defender on the U.S. Supreme Court. State House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) — a former public defender herself — explains why this matters in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

FLYING PHANATIC: Sidelined during a lengthy copyright battle with an indirect connection to Jim Henson's Muppets, the Phillie Phanatic made a high-flying and hard-hitting return on Friday. In other baseball news, the Post-Gazette went deep on the Pittsburgh Pirates' finances amid long-standing questions about what ownership invests in the team.

OPEN HOUSE: Taylor Swift's childhood home in Reading is on the market and going for $1 million. Time Out magazine has photos of the house where Swift is rumored to have written "Love Story" and "Teardrops On My Guitar." The family eventually relocated to Nashville, Tenn., and the rest is history.

HAND-CRAFTED: Vera Nazaruk, 89, of Altoona is carrying on a Ukrainian tradition of making by hand colorful, intricately detailed Easter eggs called pysanky. The Mirror details the painstaking process that involves hollowing out real eggs and occasionally ends in disaster.

RETURN TRIP: A 400-ton steam engine chugged into Tamaqua in Schuylkill County on a test run last week, the culmination of a six-year, $2.4 million restoration. The Times News and others braved heavy downpours to grab photos of the iron horse on its first local appearance since 1991.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

*This week's theme: Spring cleaning
Friday's answer: Scuttlebutt

Congrats to our weekly winner: Bernice C.

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