A top official in the state attorney general’s office was picked Friday to be chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, as Gov. Tom Corbett selected a prosecutor from a law enforcement agency that has spent considerable time investigating the state’s casino regulator.
Bill Ryan was Corbett’s top deputy when the Republican governor was the state attorney general for six years. A former two-term Delaware County district attorney, Ryan also spent four months earlier this year as acting attorney general after Corbett became governor in January.
It was during Ryan’s term as acting attorney general that the office issued a scathing, 102-page grand jury report that recounted the political calculations necessary to legalize casino-style gambling, criticized the board’s use of secret meetings and suggested the agency awarded licenses to unsuitable applicants.
It also issued a range of recommendations on how the gaming board should change to better serve the public interest, rather than the interests of casino operators and applicants.
“Bill’s proven integrity and more than three decades of experience as a prosecutor will serve him well as the new chairman of the gaming control board,” Corbett said in a statement.
The two-year grand jury probe began under Corbett’s term as attorney general. The probe has not led to any criminal charges and the grand jury’s report did not recommend charges. It was not clear Friday whether the investigation is continuing.
Ryan will assume the post Aug. 29.
Ryan, 62, of Bryn Mawr, began his career as a lawyer with the Delaware County district attorney’s office in 1972. He later served two terms as the county’s elected district attorney and joined the attorney general’s office in 1997.
In 2003, then-Attorney General Gerald Pappert promoted Ryan from the office’s criminal law division chief to his top deputy. Pappert called Ryan “a very good pick” by Corbett.
“He has the necessary background in criminal justice in the commonwealth, in state government ... and certainly Bill was around in Harrisburg when gaming came into play, so he understands the origins, the makeup and the statutes,” Pappert said Friday.
Ryan will succeed Gregory Fajt, who was appointed in 2009 by former Gov. Ed Rendell after he served in the Rendell administration as both chief of staff and Revenue Department secretary.
The gaming board was created in 2004 and is tasked with regulating and licensing Pennsylvania’s five-year-old casino industry. It has licensed 12 casinos, including six at horse-racing tracks. Ten of those casinos are open, and the gaming board has the legal authority to award two more licenses.
One of the unawarded licenses is set aside for a yet-to-be-built racetrack. The other is set aside for a casino that must, by law, be built in Philadelphia.
The board is frequently sued over its licensing decisions.
It now is facing one that seeks to overturn its April decision to award a license to the upscale Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Another lawsuit seeks to overturn the gaming board’s decision in December to revoke a license from a Philadelphia group that had been unable to build the casino in the face of financial difficulties and political and community opposition.
The courts have never overturned one of the agency’s casino licensing decisions.
The politically charged legalization of slot-machine casinos came about in 2004 as a way to help taxpayers pay for schools. Applicants included billionaire developers and some of the nation’s largest casino operators. Revenue from gambling also supports the state budget, the horse-racing industry, local governments that host casinos and civic improvement projects picked by the Legislature.
The Legislature legalized table games in 2010. Well over three-fourths of Pennsylvanians now live within an hour’s drive of a casino.