A casino trade association headed by a former state Supreme Court chief justice rebutted a lawmaker's criticism by saying that it doesn't have to register under Pennsylvania's lobbying-disclosure law because its activities don't meet the legal definition of lobbying.
House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni, D-Berks, had posed questions about the Pennsylvania Casino Association and its activities surrounding a bill that would expand casino gambling.
Santoni said Monday that he was still reading through the group's Dec. 1 letter and was considering whether to hold a hearing on the matter.
"I want to check with some legal minds first on the lobbying issue to see whether we should go forward," Santoni said.
House and Senate negotiators are still trying to work out the remaining differences in a bill to legalize table games such as poker and blackjack at slot-machine casinos and to expand the number of slot machines at smaller resort casinos.
Proponents say expanding gambling is a less painful alternative to raising taxes to shore up the state's recession-ravaged treasury. Opponents, however, say the measure is a favor for the powerful gambling industry.
According to the casino association's letter, it sent three e-mails to lawmakers about pending legislation and paid for a radio ad that warned that a state tax above 12 percent on table games would mean fewer jobs and higher taxes for state residents.
Including employee compensation, the e-mails cost less than $500 to send, well within the exemption for registering and reporting in the state's lobbying disclosure law, association board member Richard Sprague wrote in the letter. The threshold is $2,500 per quarter.
Also, the radio ad did not address an actual piece of legislation and did not ask listeners to contact legislators, wrote Sprague, who is an investor in the SugarHouse Casino project in Philadelphia. The letter did not say how much the association paid for the radio ad.
The state's definition of lobbying includes efforts "to encourage others, including the general public, to take action, the purpose or foreseeable effect of which is to directly influence legislative action or administrative action."
Sprague also wrote that the casino association's staff had not made any political contributions and did not support litigation involving gambling issues _ although it did reimburse one plaintiff $100,000 for legal expenses.
In that case, Philadelphia-area developer Peter DePaul successfully sued the state over its 2004 ban prohibiting casino investors and executives from making any political campaign contributions.
Proponents of the provision had touted it a major bulwark against the gambling industry's influence. But the Supreme Court struck it down in April.
DePaul, an investor in the as-yet-unbuilt Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, argued that the ban was a discriminatory infringement of the rights of free expression and association.
The casino association reimbursed the expenses because, Sprague wrote, the lawsuit advanced the interests of the gambling industry by affording casino owners "the same rights as other citizens to make campaign contributions if they chose to do so."
The Pittsburgh-based casino association is chaired by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala. It says its members are SugarHouse, Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Pocono Mountains and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.
The group's 2008 federal tax-exemption filing said its purpose is to "improve the business conditions in the gaming industry generally and to create a better understanding of the gaming industry by the general public, elected officials, other decision makers and the media through education and advocacy."