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Monday, November 9, 2009

That Pinnacle Casino Boss Who Tried to"Muscle" a St. Louis County Councilman? His Career Sleeps With the Fishes.

Posted By on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 at 10:49 AM

Last week, Daniel Lee, CEO of Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment, unsuccessfully attempted to "muscle" St. Louis County Councilman Steve Stenger into voting against re-zoning land in North St. Louis County to clear the way for the construction of a new casino by a Pinnacle rival.

This morning, the Post-Dispatch reports, Lee abruptly resigned from the job he held for seven years to "pursue other business interests."

The short-term outlook of those "other interests" summed up in an image:
Missed last week's casino showdown at the County Council meeting? Catch-up after the jump.

What we reported last Thursday, with block quotes via Paul Hampel's story in the Post:
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.
  • Photo of Dan Lee via
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."
But then again, as Chad pointed out, Lee had a right to be angry-- it was the first time Stenger had said no to the casino lobby:
The Las Vegas-based Pinnacle is finishing up a $357-million casino in Stenger's south county district and the casino boss didn't want Stenger to vote in favor of yet another casino in the St. Louis area.

Trouble is, Stenger just can't say no to casinos -- any casinos.

It was Stenger, after all, who insisted that casinos be exempted from the St. Louis County smoking ban if fellow council members wanted his vote on the matter. The council kowtowed to Stenger's demand and exempted casinos.

Then yesterday -- a day after voters in the county overwhelming approved the smoking ban -- there's Stenger blabbing to the Post-Dispatch in another article about how perhaps he should not have caved to gaming interests and insisted upon an exemption for casinos.

"With upwards of 65 percent of the peole voting in favor of the ban, I think you can see the day coming to phase out that exemption," Stenger told the paper.

Ya think? Too bad Stenger and the rest of the council didn't pass the buck on the casino vote (like they did with the smoking ban) and send the issue to voters. Based on the groundswell of opposition to building yet another casino in the region -- this one just outside a conservation area in north county -- it seems voters would have had plenty to say on that matter as well.

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