Panel to review casino applications County could add up to 5 gaming venues

P. G.

August 14, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

A year after Prince George's County lifted a moratorium on casino licenses, a newly formed oversight panel is gearing up to review applications for the first new casino operations there since the 1980s.

The committee's work follows a three-year cleanup by the county sheriff's department, which has shut down four casinos in that time for failure to pay taxes and other violations.

Prince George's, which draws an estimated $1 billion in wagers a year, is the only county in Maryland with casinos.

"It's difficult enough to regulate the casinos, much less be responsible for who got the license and who didn't," said Carlton Yowell, head of the sheriff's Casino Enforcement Bureau. "Personally, we didn't want to have anything to do with the selection." The county lifted the moratorium on licenses to allow opportunities for charities that previously had not operated casinos there.

The Gaming Review Board was created by a county ordinance to provide additional oversight, and its three members were appointed by County Executive Wayne K. Curry.

The members met for the first time yesterday with officials from the county executive's and sheriff's offices, but it was unclear how soon they planned a formal meeting. The first license is unlikely to be approved before the first of the year, Yowell said.

The board's assignment might be brief because a law permitting the casinos expires in May. Lobbyists for gaming interests are seeking an extension. The county could add as many as five more casinos to the 16 already operating before meeting the legal limit.

Meanwhile, casino applicants must undergo a two-phase review. The first, conducted by the Casino Enforcement Bureau, will scrutinize whether the applicant is a legitimate charitable organization and whether its managers, supervisors and dealers have any criminal convictions.

The application will be sent on to the review board only after clearing those hurdles. If problems surface in the background check, the sheriff's department might reject an application outright, without sending it to the board for consideration.

Some casino operations in the county "should never have been granted a license to begin with," said Yowell.

A 1990 report by the Prince George's state's attorney's office said that nearly all operations were violating state and county law by paying workers. Workers often were receiving untaxed salaries of as much as $800 a week, the report said.

Investigators last year began a probe into activities at the Hyattsville Fire Department casino, where manager Albert Biggs Sr. has been accused in court affidavits of embezzling about $300,000 from the gaming operation. Investigators in January searched Biggs' homes in Hyattsville and Chambersburg, Pa., and the investigation is reported to have widened considerably since then.

In May, the county closed an Oxon Hill casino operated by the Combined International Philippine American Association, after audits showed shortfalls totaling more than $500,000. The casino, which was run from a Knights of Columbus Hall on Tucker Road, came under investigation after the sheriff's office received numerous complaints of financial misconduct. CIPAA has appealed the closing, and a county appeals board will decide next month whether to renew the license.

Others have been closed for failing to pay income tax or for not filing state reports required for charitable organizations, Yowell said.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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