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The British company that wants to put thousands of slot machines in Colorado dog racing tracks is in trouble over an alleged slot machine scheme at a dog track it owns in Rhode Island. The parent company of Wembley USA was indicted Tuesday for allegedly scheming to make illegal payments in exchange for approval of additional slot machines at a dog track it owns in Rhode Island called Lincoln Park. Daniel Bucci, Lincoln Park's chief executive officer, is among those named in the 22-count indictment. Prosecutors say the scheme involved a proposed $4.5 million payment over six years to a Pawtucket, R.I., law firm in which Rep. John Harwood, a former House speaker, is a partner. The scheme was allegedly concocted in 2000 and 2001, when Harwood was speaker. Neither the law firm nor Harwood have been charged.
According to the 22-count indictment, the defendants wanted Harwood and other public officials to use their influence to obtain approval from the state Lottery Commission for additional video slot machines at Lincoln Park. The Lottery Commission has nine members, six of whom are appointed by legislative leaders.
Also charged in the indictment are Nigel Potter, chief executive officer of Wembley, PLC, the parent corporation of Lincoln Park, and the Burrillville Racing Association, the former name of the entity that owns the park.
The indictment alleges that, between August 2000 and September 2001, Bucci and Potter sent facsimiles to each other discussing specifics of the proposed illegal payments. Bucci also allegedly sent facsimiles to Wembley, USA, headquartered in Colorado, and to unidentified coconspirators in the United Kingdom.
According to the indictment, Potter also allegedly advised the board of directors of Wembley USA that the parent corporation had approved payments of $4.5 million to the Rhode Island law firm of McKinnon & Harwood.
Contacted for comment, Harwood said he has avoided any involvement in representing Lincoln Park or in legislation affecting the track or the gambling industry.
"I have never been asked to use any political or legislative influence to benefit Lincoln Park," he said.
His partner, attorney Daniel McKinnon, said the only payments he ever received from track owners were for routine hourly billings for legal work.
A phone message left at Lincoln Park for Bucci was not returned though track officials said the charges were "baseless and without merit." The track also said the payment being considered was a legal fee that was never authorized or paid.
Wembley USA owns four of Colorado's five Front Range dog racing tracks. The company is behind Colorado Amendment 33, which wants to place 2,500 gaming terminals in its dog racing tracks here in a move similar to what happened at its Rhode Island track. At that track, Wembley started with 400 video lottery terminals, increased it to 2,200, and next year will reportedly have 3,200 VLTs, according to published reports.
Wembley USA drafted the Colorado initiative, Amendment 33, to allow the placement of video lottery terminals in dog racing tracks. The group backing the amendment, Colorado Tourism Initiative, issued the following statement regarding Tuesday's indictment:
"Wembley officials in Colorado had nothing to do with the events that allegedly took place in Rhode Island and Wembley's Colorado operations have not been implicated in any way. This unfortunate, and isolated, situation in Rhode Island does not in any way reflect on the numerous Colorado organizations and individuals that support this campaign. We believe most Coloradoans will see through this for what it is, a narrow and targeted issue in Rhode Island," the statement read in part.
Ty Harding of Webley USA also issued a statement that said in part "Wembley USAs interests and activities in Colorado are unaffected by the Rhode Island situation. Nobody associated with the management of Wembleys sports and entertainment facilities here were implicated in any manner by the Grand Jury investigation."
The $10 million advertising campaign promoting Amendment 33 claims the plan would funnel $25 million into tourism, parks and open space. The ads never mention gambling as the source of the money.
"We have called this campaign one big lie," said John Dill, chairman of the group opposing the measure. "Now it appears that the company not only has been lying but may be engaged in illegal activity.
"The sponsors of this issue here in Colorado need to re-evaluate whether they should be asking Colorado to alter the state constitution on behalf of the company facing such enormous business and legal turmoil," Dill added.
Several years ago, Wembley sold its racetrack in England and invested $70 million in Colorado racetracks in Commerce City, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
- September 9, 2003: Pro-Video Lottery Ad Drawing Criticism