Thursday, November 16, 2006

Open Records in Pennsylvania -- Not!

Shadowy slots: The public deserves more openness on records
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the high-stakes world of casino gambling, it's best to go in with eyes wide open so that unwitting citizens aren't thrown for a loss. We're not talking about slots customers; we're referring to host communities.

Last week the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force, a broad-based independent panel appointed by former Mayor Tom Murphy to scrutinize and assess the applications for the city's sole slots license, went to Harrisburg to examine the latest records submitted to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. They came away surprised and disappointed, saying they were denied access to building and site plans, architectural drawings and traffic studies.

We understand the need to keep certain information confidential, like corporate financial data and details of personal background checks. But it's hard to imagine what justifies the shroud of secrecy over the basic elements of the license seeker's package.

The public, whether as individuals or as groups with official standing like the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force, have reasonable concerns about the advent of Pennsylvania's first casinos. Among the issues are traffic, public safety, business impact and aesthetics. The records being sought by the task force would have provided insight and information on these subjects.

A spokesman for the state gaming board told the Post-Gazette that architectural drawings are private because they could show the positions of security cameras or money storage. He said updated traffic and impact studies will be available once the licensing hearings are finished (hearings on the Pittsburgh applicants will take place next week). He didn't know why the task force was refused access to site plans.

Lame, lame, lame.

When the state gaming control board was installed, it pledged openness and accessibility. What the good citizens from Pittsburgh got in their records search last week was neither.

If the state wants the public to have faith in its licensing decisions, it must open more of the record for public inspection. These casinos may be private businesses, but they will be licensed to operate, after all, at the pleasure of the people and in the people's community.

It's better for all that our prospective new neighbors put their cards on the table before they move in.

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