County Council Member Says He Was Pressured By Vegas Casino Ecec

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#1 Nov 5, 2009
STLtoday.com

County Council member says he was pressured by Vegas casino exec
By Paul Hampel
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Thursday, Nov. 05 2009
CLAYTON — The issue before the St. Louis County Council Tuesday night was
casino development. And during the meeting, a touch of the rough-and-tumble
ways of old Las Vegas surfaced.

The council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to approve a rezoning request that would allow
the development of a controversial new casino and entertainment complex in
north St. Louis County.

Voting with the majority was Steve Stenger, D-Affton.

But Stenger said Wednesday that a casino company executive from Las Vegas had
not made the decision easy.

Stenger said he was paid a visit shortly before the meeting began by Daniel R.
Lee, chairman and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., and
several members of Lee's entourage.

Pinnacle is building the River City Casino in Lemay, which is set to open in
the spring of 2010. The company says it is investing about $357 million in the
project, which is in Stenger's district.

Stenger said it was the first time he had met Lee, who had flown in that
afternoon from Las Vegas.

"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.

In addition to River City, Pinnacle opened the $507 million Lumière Place
casino on Laclede's Landing in 2007 and owns the ailing President Casino
nearby. Pinnacle has sued the Missouri Gaming Commission over a ruling
requiring it to reapply for a gambling license if it wants to move or replace
the President.

Pinnacle has announced plans to renovate the President, but last week a backer
of the North County casino said the state would be better served by assigning
the gambling license to the North County casino.

After Stenger cast his vote, he said, Lee got out of his seat near the back of
the chambers, hurried down the side aisle and stepped up onto the council dais.

"He got about two feet from my face before someone waved him aside, telling him
he could not interrupt the meeting like that," Stenger said.

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."

Through a spokesperson, Lee responded on Wednesday via e-mail about the
incident.

"I apologize for making anyone uncomfortable, which certainly was not my
intent," the statement read. "I was passionate in my discussion of the issue,
which is important to our neighborhood and to the investment and jobs at River
City. However, I did not mean to cause offense to anyone, including Councilman
Stenger and his staff."

Stenger has not heard directly from Lee but said he accepted the apology. He
said, "I would look forward to future discussions with Mr. Lee that are a lot
more civil."

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