Pennsylvania turns party pooper on GOP's ''Las Vegas Night''

RENO - A Las Vegas-style casino night that was to be the Nevada Republican Party's biggest fund-raiser at the national GOP convention in Philadelphia has crapped out.

It seems gambling is illegal in Pennsylvania - even if it's done with fake money and chips.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher dealt the bad news to the Nevada delegation this week.

As a result, GOP leaders decided to scrap the event they had hoped would bring in as much as $100,000 to help elect Republicans in Nevada this fall.

''It's unfortunate. It was going to be a lot of fun,'' said Ryan Erwin, executive director of the Nevada GOP.

From Southwest barbecues to New England clam bakes, state and regional theme parties are a staple of the fund-raising circuit at national political conventions.

Nevada Republicans had hoped to use the $100-per-person ''Las Vegas Night'' to raise money and lobby anyone who would listen about the state's views on issues before Congress, including a proposed betting ban on amateur sports and efforts to regulate Internet gambling.

''It had been going extremely well. We had three or four entire delegations that were planning to come,'' Erwin said.

An aide to Fisher insists the Republican attorney general's office is not out to be a party pooper.

''We made the Nevada officials aware that our laws prohibit gambling,'' spokesman Sean Connolly said from Harrisburg, Pa.

''And we encouraged the Nevada delegates and all other visitors to enjoy all the legal cultural, historic and sporting activities Philadelphia has to offer,'' he said, emphasizing ''legal.''

The move was hailed by a leading compulsive gambling consultant in neighboring New Jersey.

''I give Pennsylvania a lot of credit for doing that,'' said Arnie Wexler, a recovering compulsive gambler himself in Bradley Beach, N.J.

Even if no money changed hands, ''the perception would be that it's OK to do this,'' he said.

Erwin said the idea was to give visitors a handful of gambling chips ''with fake monetary value'' to play roulette, craps and black jack.

''They would be able to play and we would give away trips to Las Vegas and things like that,'' he said.

''Everything we were going to do was for entertainment purposes. There would have been no financial wagering.''

Erwin said the Nevada delegation is trying to come up with an alternate event.

''We decided it was better to be safe than sorry,'' he said.

A leading Nevada Democrat who works as an executive for a top casino in Las Vegas said she was ''shocked'' by Pennsylvania's stance.

''What surprises me the most is they do casino nights nationwide, as long as they are not for profit and no real gambling is going on,'' said Jan Jones, senior vice president for communications at Harrah's Entertainment Inc.

''They do casino nights in Washington D.C.,'' said Jones, the former mayor of Las Vegas and unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1998.

Erwin said Fisher ''cited the law for me specifically,'' pointing out that the only table games allowed must be used to raise money for charity, and even then ''it has to be bingo or something else.''

The Pennsylvania law on ''gambling devices, gambling, etc.,'' Sect. 5513, states a person is guilty of a misdemeanor if he:

''Intentionally or knowingly makes, assembles, sets up, maintains, sells, lends, leases, gives away, or offers for sale, loan, lease or gift, any punch board, drawing card, slot machine or any device to be used for gambling purposes, except playing cards.''

Connolly said he couldn't discuss ''scenarios that would or would make it legal.

''Bascially, our laws prohibit using gambling devices. We told them that generally it is illegal to gamble or use a gambling device in Pennsylvania.''


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