On August 19th, the California Gambling Control Commission voted to approve the casino license application of Irving Moskowitz, a leading funder of hardline Israeli settlers. This message contains our account of the Commission's action that day.
But first, we want to thank all of you who wrote and emailed the Commissioners urging them to deny the license. Hundreds - as many as a thousand - of your messages were on display in two thick binders. It was very inspiring - as though all of you were with us in the Sacramento auditorium where the Commission met. The Commissioners, however, barely acknowledged the concerns raised in your messages and our statements over the years, disparaging them as "repetitive" and "smoke."
After hearing and briefly discussing their staff's recommendation to award Moskowitz a conditional license to operate his Hawaiian Gardens Casino, the Commissioners opened the floor for public comments. Six Coalition speakers reminded the Commissioners of the numerous ways that Moskowitz failed to satisfy the requirements of the state's gambling code. (Click here to see a letter to state legislators matching code sections with his failures.) Coalition co-directors Haim Beliak and Jane Hunter asked the Commissioners how they could grant Moskowitz the privilege of a license when he'd never appeared before the Commission-particularly in the light of persistent talk, reported to the Commission by the Coalition, that Moskowitz's mental faculties are failing.
Former State Assemblymember Scott Wildman, noting that the United Nations had deemed Moskowitz's provocative purchases of Palestinian property illegal, urged the Commissioners to uphold international law by denying Moskowitz's license application. Fired casino dealer Louie Lu, the lead plaintiff in a class action suit against Moskowitz, spoke of the need to restrain the unlawful behavior of the casino management. That morning the Los Angeles Times had reported workers' allegations that the casino made employees buy their jobs and give up part of their tips. (Click here to read the report and other news coverage of the Commission's decision.)
Moskowitz's lawyer and the mayor pro tem of Hawaiian Gardens, whose government Moskowitz controls, rose from the midst of expensively clad lobbyists to speak for Moskowitz. Then the Commission spent about five minutes on a pre-vote discussion.
In an apparent response to a letter the Coalition sent the Commissioners on July 6th, asking them to review the sufficiency of the investigation, Chairman Dean Shelton and Commissioner Michael Palmer, complimented the investigative agency, the Division of Gambling Control. We made our July 6th request because of a lawsuit by former Division agents who allege that the agency's chiefs ordered them to suppress negative information about a casino owner whom the Commission subsequently licensed. As we noted in our letter, Coalition members also experienced Division personnel as dismissive of negative evidence about Moskowitz.
Chairman Shelton said "The Division has absolutely done a fine job" investigating "totally unsubstantiated and unfounded allegations." Commissioner Palmer also disparaged the Coalition's evidence, saying "the Division has done a thorough job."
That evidence, submitted to the Division and to the Commission, included Moskowitz's own documents showing that he had undisclosed negotiations to sell shares of his casino to other card clubs. The Coalition also showed the Division and Commission dozens of lawsuits and a business that Moskowitz hadn't disclosed on his license application. State gambling law demands complete disclosure. We provided documents showing that Moskowitz used street gang muscle to win the election authorizing his casino and documents showing how he used corruptive influence to control Hawaiian Gardens to the benefit of his casino and the bingo he also runs in the City. We provided newspaper columns and other evidence of statements by Irving and Cherna Moskowitz, his wife and partner, approving of assassinations, showing that the Moskowitz's did not have the good character the gambling law requires.
Only one of the conditions recommended by the Commission staff related to the concerns we raised: posting security guards at every entrance to keep out underage people. We had emphasized the improper siting of the casino, near a school, a park and churches. The other recommended conditions related to the auditing of accounts and reporting of incidents, suggesting that the Commission had found serious problems with the casino's operations.
Commissioner Arlo Smith said that he still had unanswered questions about the Moskowitz application. He added that he has learned that a civil grand jury investigation is underway. Shelton, Palmer and Commissioner J.K. Sasaki all voted to approve the license application with the recommended conditions. Smith abstained. A close observer of the Commission says no commissioner ever abstained before.
We believe the Commission failed in its duty to keep unfit individuals out of California's gambling industry. As Coalition Co-director Jane Hunter told the Los Angeles Times, "The people of California still don't know how bad you have to be in order to be denied a casino license." Reflecting our dismay at the Commission's imperviousness was an editorial in the Long Beach Press-Telegram, entitled "Unanswered Questions," which said "The state needs to get to the truth of what's going on at the Hawaiian Gardens casino." (You can read both pieces and other media coverage by clicking here.)
For us, the best thing to come out of this experience is the overwhelming response of the people on this list (and the people on their lists) to our plea for letters to the Commission. We are pondering our options for moving forward. We would love to have your thoughts, and, if possible, your donations.
Thank you very much!