Friday, August 28, 2015

SugarHouse lobbyist S.R. Wojdak & Associates also worked for Market8

For years, S.R. Wojdak & Associates has lobbied in Harrisburg for SugarHouse Casino, which has fought the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's plan to put a second casino in Philadelphia. The firm also worked recently for the backers of Market8.

SugarHouse lobbyist S.R. Wojdak & Associates also worked for Market8

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Rendering of proposed Market8 Casino at Eighth and Market Streets.
Rendering of proposed Market8 Casino at Eighth and Market Streets.

For years, S.R. Wojdak & Associates has lobbied in Harrisburg for SugarHouse Casino, which has fought the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s plan to put a second casino in Philadelphia.

Wojdak has long had other casino clients as well: Rivers in Pittsburgh — which is controlled by the same Chicago investor as Philadelphia’s Sugarhouse — and Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos.

In recent months, according to Pennsylvania Gaming & Control Board records, the Wojdak firm, which for decades has been among the top lobbying firms in Pennsylvania, added a casino hopeful to its portfolio: Market8.

Here’s a refresher on why that jumps out.

Testimony by a Market8 expert about how much revenue the proposed casino at Eighth and Market Streets in Center City would take from SugarHouse prompted the casino's chairman Neil Bluhm to drop everything in Chicago and fly to Philadelphia to testify on Jan. 30.

Bluhm brought a warning to the gaming board that opening a second casino in Philadelphia would spell financial disaster.

What gives?

“Steve Wodjak is one of a dozen or more consultants working for Market East Associates,” said Wodjak spokesman Kevin Feeley, using the legal name for the partnership backing Market8.

“[Wojdak] was retained to work in a limited capacity on a limited set of issues, and from the very start Wojdak raised the potential for conflict with Sugarhouse and with Market8 and both agreed that they would waive the conflict. That work is now complete,” Feeley said.

What sort of work?

“That is confidential information,” Feeley said.

A political observer in Philadelphia found the arrangement curious.

“It’s odd. It’s definitely odd, even if both clients waived any conflict issues,” said Zack Stalberg, president and chief executive of the Committee of Seventy, a government watchdog group.

S.R. Wojdak ran into a casino-related conflict two years ago, when the city was fighting to keep the second license, which had been stripped from Foxwoods in late 2010, in Philadelphia. S.R. Wojdak, meanwhile, in its role representing SugarHouse, was urging state lawmakers to amend the gaming law to put it in another part of the state.

Holly Kinser, a former S.R. Wojdak associate set up her own firm in early 2012 and took over lobbying for the city under the Wojdak contract, which ended June 30, 2013. Kinser won the contract, which pays $120,000 a year, for fiscal 2014. S.R. Wojdak did not bid, according to Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman.

Inquirer Staff Writer
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Reporter Jennifer Lin follows the competition among the six contenders for Philadelphia’s second gaming license.

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