O’Malley Cronies Pick Casino Operator Too ‘Mobbed Up’ For New Jersey
So who does a group of Maryland Democratic and O’Malley insiders select for a casino license that has been described as one of the most lucrative to be awarded in the past decade? They pick the very same company that was too mobbed up even for New Jersey, MGM.
In decision worthy of a Sopranos or the Wire plot, last month the Maryland “Video Lottery Facility Location Commission” picked MGM, and their National Harbor location from among three applicants for a Prince Georges County casino license.
In doing so, Maryland ignored a New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement report that details MGM’s intimate financial relationship with Pansy Ho, the daughter of Macau gambling magnate Stanley Ho. The report finds: “MGM pursued partnerships with persons that it knew were associated with those aspects of gaming in Macau most heavily penetrated by organized crime.”
According New Jersey’s MGM report: “Numerous governmental and regulatory agencies have referenced Stanley Ho’s association with criminal enterprises, including permitting organized crime to operate and thrive within his casinos.”
MGM’s own private-investigation firm report concluded that: “Stanley Ho was ‘linked closely’ to 14K and Sun Yee On, two major Macau triads, or organized crime groups, and also had links to Russian organized crime and North Korean authorities.” However: “They partnered with Ho anyway.” (NJ MGM Report )
Rather than contest the regulators’ findings before the NJ Casino Control Commission, MGM agreed to divest its one-half interest in Atlantic City’s largest hotel, the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa.
The unsavory intersection between politics and gambling has been a recurring feature of Maryland politics. Nearly 5,000 legal slot machines once operated around the clock in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties. By the sixties, disgust with the culture of political corruption the slots created triggered an anti-gambling movement. After a protracted legislative battle, the last legal slots were finally closed down in 1968.
In the seventies, Maryland’s Governor was indicted in a scandal involving awarding lucrative racing dates to favored tracks. After politically connected insiders bought a racetrack with only 18 “days,” the legislature increased them to 94 “days.”
Before obtaining a license for what will become the “Horseshoe Baltimore,” the casino’s parent company contributed to $150,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, then chaired by O’Malley. At the time the Governor’s office defended him, saying he was “insulated” from any inference of wrongdoing because the casino selection was made by an independent board appointed by O’Malley and legislative leaders. It is in this context that the announcement that O’Malley cronies have chosen MGM to build a casino at National Harbor meets knowing dismay.
To connect the dots on the National Harbor selection, as well as to see how “independent” the Commission really is, begin with Mark Newgent’s coverage in Watchdog Wire of the apparent conflicts of interest between “Maryland Video Lottery Facility Gaming Commission” Chairman Donald Fry and a key lobbying firm for MGM, KO Public Affairs. Relying on public records, Newgent tracks some $400,000 from MGM to KO Public Affairs, a piece of the staggering more than $41 million that MGM is recorded as pouring into Maryland politics. (See: WatchDog Wire )
Fry is a former Democratic State Senator who routinely provides convenient political cover for the O’Malley political agenda. The MCGOP Party Line has previously covered his role in lobbying efforts for higher state taxes, while claiming to be a pro-business advocate. (See Stopping Maryland’s Pro-Gas Tax Start Coalition )
Two years ago the Washington Post quoted an executive of another Maryland casino operator as describing the Prince Georges County site selection a “sleazy process” to be regarded with “disgust.” However do not look for any coverage on MGM’s background in either the Post or the Baltimore Sun. Both papers have ignored the New Jersey gambling regulators public record findings. Instead their reporters have produced stories drawn primarily from company and government press releases.
Don’t look for leadership from Maryland’s chief law enforcement officer on this issue either. As a candidate for Governor, Attorney General Doug Gansler isadvocating that the National Harbor casino get its own Metro stop.
The Wire’s “Tommy Carcetti” may only have been a fictional character, although he is widely regarded as based on Martin O’Malley. Close your eyes, though, and you will not have much trouble visualizing the negative television commercials running in 2016 Democratic primaries. “Martin O’Malley: Giving a gambling license to a company too mobbed up even for New Jersey.”
Uncapher was Montgomery County Republican Chairman from 2008-2013, and is now the MCGOP Treasurer. Follow on twitter @Mark_Uncapher
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