Thursday, April 07, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: CARD SHARKS, CON MEN AND SHADY LADIES

UPDATE: Late Thursday afternoon, the governor's office announced that Gov. Bill Richardson had vetoed SB 384.

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 7, 2005

Imagine this scene: It’s a big ceremonial bill signing in the governor’s Cabinet Room. A few reporters and TV cameramen scramble for a place around the big marble table. The room is crowded, as has been the case with bill signings for the past couple of weeks.

But this time it’s not anti-driving-while-intoxicated activists or election-reform advocates or animal-rights crusaders who crowd into the room.

No, this is the official signing of Senate Bill 384, which would allow the state Gaming Control Board to grant gambling licenses to people and organizations that have had their gaming licenses revoked in other states. Dozens of disgraced casino operators, crooked racetrack owners, card sharks, con men and shady ladies from around the country have come to take turns saying, “I’d just like to thank the governor.”

(Swirling music ... columnist awakes, sputtering ... it was only a dream ... only a dream ... )

No, such a scene won’t happen. Not even if Gov. Bill Richardson signs SB 384 by Friday’s deadline. No separate bill signing has been scheduled for that bill, Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks confirmed Wednesday. If he signs it, it will be behind closed doors with no TV cameras or passing out of red ballpoint pens or press releases about how the bill boldly moves New Mexico forward and helps working families.

Sparks gave no hint how the governor would act on the bill.

Current state law says the state Gaming Board shall not issue a license to an applicant who has been denied a license or had a license revoked or suspended in any state. The new bill would change “shall not” to “may refuse to.” (Emphasis mine.)

The Hubbard factor: If signed into law, SB 384 could rescue Ruidoso and Hobbs racetrack owner R.D. Hubbard. He is in danger of receiving disciplinary action from the state of Indiana, which could jeopardize his gambling license here.

Hubbard’s problem stems from a 2001 scandal at the Belterra Casino Resort, operated by Pinnacle Entertainment, for which Hubbard was board chairman. Among other allegations, the company was accused of flying in prostitutes to entertain high-roller guests at a Belterra golf tournament.

In a settlement with the Indiana Gaming Commission, Hubbard voluntary relinquished his gambling license there.

However, a federal lawsuit filed by Pinnacle in January could result in the commission imposing further sanctions against Hubbard, which, under the current law, could affect his New Mexico license.

Not that filthy lucre would ever affect a politician’s actions, but for the record, Hubbard companies contributed $40,000 to Richardson’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Legislative debate: Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, who introduced SB 384 the same day Pinnacle filed its suit against Hubbard, said he had no knowledge of the lawsuit at the time.

“That bill wasn’t brought to me by Mr. Hubbard or the casinos,” Griego said Wednesday. “The Gaming Commission brought me the bill. I’ve never met Mr. Hubbard.”

The commission wanted the bill because it also removes a cap on the salary of the commission director, Griego said. He also said the bill would help nonprofit clubs that have been turned down for gambling licenses in other states.

Griego said he hadn’t been aware the state prohibited people who had gotten in trouble in other states from getting gambling licenses here.

On the last day of the legislative session, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, gave an impassioned speech attacking SB 384 on the Senate floor. Such legislation sends a message, he said, that New Mexico welcomes “the dregs” of the gambling industry.

“Why should we make our standards so low?” McSorley said Wednesday. “The gambling industry preys on people too stupid to know the odds. Why would we ask people who don’t have to play by the rules to run our gambling institutions?”

However, McSorley’s protests didn’t come until well after the Senate unanimously had passed SB 384. McSorley admitted even he voted for it.

He said there was no discussion initially of the controversial section about gaming applicants who had trouble in other states. “It was presented as a way to help the nonprofits,” McSorley said.

But after the vote, he studied the bill. So when the House amended the bill and sent it back to the Senate on that last morning of the session, “I was lying in wait,” McSorley said.

The Senate refused to go along with the House amendment. But in the last few minutes of the session, the House voted, with no debate, to approve the Senate version.

Springtime in New Hampshire: The news that Richardson is headed to New Hampshire in June to speak to a Latino summit in Manchester and a local Democratic gathering sounds like a rerun.

In this very column, almost exactly a year ago, I revealed the governor was going to the University of New Hampshire to give a commencement speech. “It’s got absolutely nothing to do with the 2008 New Hampshire primary,” Sparks said last year.

Brace yourself for more such denials in the months to come.

Bonus: Here's the Indiana Gaming Commission minutes on the infamous Belterra golf tournament. These hookers were so loud, they disrupted Howie Mandell! And hey, nobody should be allowed to disrupt Waylon Jennings and get away without a serious ass whoopin'!

On June 26, 2001, eight or more women were flown to an area airport on an aircraft leased by Pinnacle. According to numerous witnesses these women were brought to Belterra for the entertainment of the guests of the golf tournament. On several occasions several of the women were referred to as "hookers". On the evenings of June 26, 2001 and June 27, 2001, Hubbard directed Belterra casino employees to provide money to the invitees for gambling and to pay other fees without the necessary paperwork. On at least one occasion, on Hubbard's authority, Belterra employees made a distribution from the cage to an associate of Hubbard's. On the evening of June 27, 2001, Howie Mandel performed in the Belterra concert arena. At this concert, a party was hosted in the Celebrity Room of the concert arena where the women and the invitees of the golf outing were present. The party was loud and Mandel had to stop the concert several times because of the disturbances caused by the group in the Celebrity Room. On the evening of June 28, 2001 Waylon Jennings performed in the Belterra concert arena. Again, during this concert a party was hosted in the Celebrity Room for the women and the invitees to the golf tournament. The party became loud and disrupted the concert several times. After the concert the invitees and the women retired to a room on the 15th floor where the party continued. On June 29, 2001 the majority of the invitees and the women left the casino via ground transportation or air transportation.

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