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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Did A Vegas Casino Boss Try To Make A St. Louis County Councilman An Offer He Couldn't Refuse?

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Reporter Paul Hampel has an incredible story in today's Post-Dispatch about the CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (the Vegas-based company that owns Lumiere Place, the Admiral and the new casino in Lemay) attempting to "muscle" a member of the St. Louis County Council before Tuesday's vote to re-zone wetlands near the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area to allow construction of a casino to be run by a Pinnacle rival.

In a textbook case of life-imitating art-imitating life, Pinnacle's Daniel R. Lee and "several members of his entourage" reportedly flew in from Nevada and met with Steve Stenger, a Democrat from Affton, minutes before he was to vote on the issue.

What happened next is straight out of Scorcese:

"He comes into my office 15 minutes before the meeting begins and he muscles me," Stenger said. "He said, 'This (the casino) is the largest investment your district has ever seen or will ever see. And we are asking you to vote no (on the North County rezoning issue).'"

Stenger said he could not understand why Lee would take an interest in the matter. From his perspective, he said, the Lemay casino and a potential North County gambling center would be too far apart to compete.

"I asked Lee why he cared, but he would only say, 'Voting no is the right decision to make. You need to vote no.'" Stenger said.
Then, when Stenger cast his vote in favor of re-zoning-- against Lee's advice-- the casino boss interrupted the meeting, tried to get in the council rep's face, and started making threats.
Stenger said Lee then approached Stenger's assistant, Linda Henry, who was seated at the side of the dais.

"Lee says to her, loud enough for everyone to hear, 'He (Stenger) just made the worst move in his political career! I won't forget this! I never forget things like this!'" Stenger said.

Henry confirmed the incident. "He said it very menacingly," she added. "I felt threatened."
Lee has since apologized via e-mail for "making anyone uncomfortable" and his "passionate discussion of the issue."

Not only is it remarkable that Stenger came forward with this information (see: Hoffa, Jimmy), it makes you wonder what other behind-the-scenes dealings the casino lobby -- and not just on Pinnacle's side either -- had with the County Council before Tuesday's vote.

In this situation, not hard to picture a smoke-filled back room and the words of Ace Rothstein: "There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way, and the way that *I* do it. You understand?"

P.S. Click here for another take on Stenger's run-in with the casino boss.

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