Missouri agency looks into actions of Pinnacle CEO

AP News
Posted: Nov 06, 2009 3:52 PM

Investigators are looking into the behavior of Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.'s CEO during a zoning vote by the St. Louis County Council this week on a casino complex being developed by another company.

Gaming Commission Executive Director Gene McNary said Friday that the inquiry is being conducted by members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who perform investigations for the commission.

County Council member Steve Stenger, a Democrat from Affton, has said that Pinnacle's chairman and CEO Daniel R. Lee flew in from Las Vegas and visited him before the Tuesday meeting. Pinnacle is building a roughly $350 million casino complex, the River City Casino, in Stenger's district.

Stenger said Lee, whom he had not met before, asked him to vote "no" on a rezoning issue for a proposal by another company, North County Development, to put in a casino and entertainment complex in north St. Louis County. Stenger believes the two casinos will be far enough apart that he didn't understand why Lee would take an interest in the matter.

At the meeting, Stenger said that after he voted in favor of the rezoning Lee got out of his seat and hurried up to the platform where the council was sitting. Stenger told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Lee got "about two feet from my face" before being waved aside by someone else and told he couldn't interrupt the meeting.

He said Lee went over to Stenger's assistant, Linda Henry, and said: "He just made the worst move in his political career! I won't forget this! I never forget things like this!" Henry has said she felt threatened.

Stenger declined to comment to The Associated Press on Friday because he had already detailed what happened.

A spokeswoman for Las Vegas-based Pinnacle, Pauline Yoshihashi, said the company will fully cooperate with any investigation.

Lee had issued a statement earlier this week, saying, "I apologize for making anyone uncomfortable, which certainly was not my intent. I was passionate in my discussion of the issue, which is important to our neighborhood and to the investment and jobs at River City. However, I did not mean to cause offense to anyone, including Councilman Stenger and his staff."

State Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, said Friday that he had written to the Gaming Commission asking for further scrutiny. The commission told him it had already started making inquiries.

"I think it's very serious when a CEO with two gaming licenses threatens an elected official," particularly during a meeting, Green said. "It's just wrong."

McNary said investigators will look into the sequence of events and who talked to whom. He described Lee as "congenial and personable" in their own meetings together.

Pinnacle currently owns two casinos in downtown St. Louis _ Lumiere Place and the President Casino. The President operates in a fixed location on the Mississippi River inside the Admiral vessel, with a hull that was built in 1904. There's been legal wrangling over its future and its gaming license, but Pinnacle hopes to repair the boat's hull and keep the license.

Pinnacle's River City casino complex in the south St. Louis County community of Lemay is scheduled to open in the spring, with 2,000 slot machines and 60 table games.