Pinnacle CEO acts like a member of the mob, (or tobacco exec?) when profits believed threatened


Dan Lee, CEO of Pinnacle, until resigning on Monday

The threatening behavior exhibited by Dan Lee, who just stepped down as CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment after an ugly confrontation with Councilman Steve Stenger during a council meeting, makes you wonder if casinos aren’t in the same league as the tobacco industry, or the mob: prepared to crush anything and anyone they fear might affect their lucrative business.

In this case, it involved the very public threats made by Lee during a regular St. Louis County Council meeting on Tuesday evening, November 3, 2009, reported below by Paul Hampel in a story published two days later. The public outburst was preceded by a private meeting in Councilman Stenger’s office just before the evening council meeting, which started at 6 pm. It’s reasonable to assume that if only Lee had kept his strong-arm tactics private he would still be CEO.

What relevance does this have to the secondhand smoke issue? I think there is a connection. Just review a major reason Councilman Stenger gave to the same reporter, Paul Hampel, for exempting casinos from the ordinance just approved as Prop-N in the polls. The story was titled:

Smoking ban exemptions are now the focus of criticism

The original ordinance did not include an exemption for casinos. Stenger refused to back that proposition unless gambling floors were excluded. His vote was key, as the measure to put Proposition N on the ballot passed 4-3. Stenger said he insisted on the exemption for two reasons.

“One was that I was concerned that residents who smoke and gamble in the county would take their business to the St. Charles casino (Ameristar),” he said. “The other was that casino interests made it known that if they were included in the ban, they would spend $11 million to annihilate the proposal. And then we’d be left with no ban at all.”

So maybe the casinos don’t use guns to blow away those they view as threatening their profits. Instead they use cash, and they seem to have lots of it, even when they’re crying over profits being down. But there are some victims resulting from this behavior: not in body bags perhaps and uncounted, but they exist. They’re the victims of secondhand smoke.

Below is Hampel’s original story on the ugly incident involving Lee and Stenger on November 3:

County Council member says he was pressured by Vegas casino exec

By Paul Hampel

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 (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, ‘(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 spokeman, 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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