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February 15, 2011 | By | Posted in General News

Gaming Control Board Fears Personal Liability

Asks lawmakers to close possible loopholes

Allowing ex-officio members of the state Gaming Control Board (GCB) to participate in executive sessions of the board is causing members to fear their immunity from lawsuits and claims against their personal assets may be endangered.

Commonwealth Court ruled in late December State Treasurer Rob McCord, a Democrat, must be allowed into the closed sessions, since his position as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the GCB is prescribed by law. The state Secretaries of Revenue and Agriculture are also ex-officio members.

GCB Executive Director Greg Fajt told the House Gaming Oversight Committee Tuesday the several months of debate over whether Mr. McCord could sit in on the closed meetings had nothing to do with Mr. McCord personally. Mr. Fajt said the ex-officio members are not subject to the same amount of scrutiny and restrictions as the GCB members.

The board, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, attempts to keep itself “free of political influence and maintain the highest integrity” in dealing with state gambling issues, Mr. Fajt said. Under state law the board is a quasi-judicial body which cannot be sued on an individual or personal basis for its actions, he said.

Last week, former Speaker of the House Keith McCall, a Carbon County Democrat, and Tony Moscato, a former aide to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), were appointed to the GCB.

Board members serve two-year terms and receive $145,000 annually.

The addition of ex-officio members to meetings has the potential to pierce the veil of immunity, Mr. Fajt told the committee, particularly at the federal level, depending on court rulings.

While GCB members are barred from talking about pending or possible matters that may come before the board, participating in political activities or political fund raising, ex-officio members are not, Mr. Fajt said.

Mr. Fajt asked the committee to consider revising legislation to more clearly protect GCB members from the potential for personal liability. “Our personal assets are at stake,” he said.

Christopher Craig, chief counsel for Mr. McCord, said Mr. Fajt’s concerns were exaggerated, particularly in light of a recent federal suit against the board by financier and gambling operator Donald Trump. The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Trump case, “the Board is adequately insulated from political pressures, thereby satisfying this element of quasi-judicial immunity.”

Mr. Fajt’s attorney, Douglas Sherman, told the committee the Trump suit represented the type of case that had the potential to harm the protection enjoyed by the GCB.

Oversight Chair Curt Schroder (R-Chester) said the committee would take Mr. Fajt’s concerns under consideration.

Mr. McCord has attended three executive committee meetings of the GCB since the Commonwealth Court ruling, Mr. Fajt said.

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Jim Panyard is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Jim@PAIndependent.com.

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