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Keller @ Large: Gaming Commission Racking Up Big Bills

By Jon Keller, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's Jon Keller Jon Keller
Jon Keller is WBZ-TV News' Political Analyst, and his "Keller A...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Costly airfares, luxury hotels and expensive meals out on the town; the cost of the state’s Gaming Commission is adding up.

The running total, for expenses alone, is now more than $200,000. The money was spent in just a year and a half. It’s a number that far exceeds other state agencies.

The commission is due to be funded eventually by a cut of the proceeds from casinos and slots. But for now, their salaries and expenses are covered by taxpayer dollars. Some of the ways they’ve been spending them are drawing serious political heat.

“This undermines public trust,” State Treasurer Steve Grossman says.

From the state treasurer, to the former inspector general, to the governor himself.

The order of the day is anger and shock over the Gaming Commission’s lavish spending habits, detailed by the Boston Business Journal in a page-one story Friday.

“It’s a lot of money,” Governor Deval Patrick said. “A little, a little modesty would probably be a good idea.”

In their first 20 months on the job, commission employees spent $85,000 on airfare, $61,000 on hotels and a whopping $37,000 for meals.

One commission investigator spent $16,000 during a two-week business trip to Asia, dropping more than $7,000 on a one-way business-class seat from Hong Kong to Boston.

“They could have got it for $1200 for sitting eight rows back in the plane,” former State Inspector General Gregory Sullivan says.

Here at home, Commissioner Enrique Zuniga, Treasurer Grossman’s appointee to the panel, rang up more than $400 in limousine charges.

“Limos, expensive restaurants, airline tickets that aren’t done in a way that saves money, I think that sends the wrong message to the people of the Commonwealth,” Treasurer Grossman said.

In a statement to WBZ, Commission Chairman Steve Crosby wrote: “It is important to note that not one penny of taxpayer dollars has been or ever will be spent on commission operations due to the fact that we are funded solely by the gaming applicants and licensees.”

“That is plain out wrong,” says Gregory Sullivan. “The legislature appropriated money to the Gaming Commission which they’re still spending.”

In his statement, Chairman Crosby says he “appreciates the importance of public scrutiny” and vows to seek an “independent review” of how “comparable regulatory agencies” across the country handle these sorts of expenses.

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