Allegheny County Councilwoman calls Casino’s overcrowding bluff

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Amanda Green-Hawkins

 Following the July 25 story on the Rivers Casino shutting down a party thrown by the Ruff Ryders Black motorcycle club, the New Pittsburgh Courier received calls and emails about similar actions taken when events drew large Black crowds to the casino—actions that were not taken when events drew large White crowds.

Now Allegheny County Councilwoman Amanda Green-Hawkins, who has also received allegations of discrimination, is demanding some real answers.  In an Aug. 6 letter addressed to Rivers General Manager Craig Clark, she highlighted some of the incidents.

 

The allegations include:

•The cancellation of “Casino Royal Nights” parties held by promoter Jay Legacy in the casino’s Drum Bar in 2011, which despite not being advertised or promoted on the casino website, began to draw large African-American crowds;

•The Black fraternity Omega Psi Phi being charged $15,000 to hold its All White Labor Day Weekend event in the Rivers Ballroom, which according to the letter was twice the usual rate, and

•The cancellation of boxing events promoted by TNT promoter Troy Ridgely, again because they drew large Black crowds.

The casino has maintained that events in the drum bar were shut down due to overcrowding.  Green-Hawkins said she has not yet received a response to her letter.

“My role as a county councilwoman is to mediate some kind of resolution because, whether imagined or real, Blacks will not patronize businesses that they think are doing this,” she said.

Green-Hawkins said she wants the casino to be successful. It is in her district and people enjoy it.  But that success cannot come at the expense of the city’s African-American residents.

“I’ve been to the Rivers, not to gamble, but for the food, concerts. It’s a nice place,” she said. “But if they don’t want to do business with us, we shouldn’t spend our money there—bottom line.”

Green-Hawkins said she will likely meet with casino management once she sees a response to her letter. But if she doesn’t receive an explanation for what some see as a pattern of bias, she’ll support stronger action.

“There is only so much I can do as an elected official. The public has to apply the pressure,” she said. “But If I don’t get an adequate response, I will likely support those who are calling for a boycott.”

 

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Don Barden

The casino—then called the Majestic—was originally licensed to Black media mogul Don Barden of Detroit. However, after winning the state licensing bid, Barden was hit with a series of lawsuits by losing bidders, neighboring property owners, and civic groups that delayed construction and further drained his finances.

Barden lost ownership shortly after construction began in 2008 when the collapse of the financial market cut off his access to credit. Ownership was transferred to Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, with Barden retaining a 20 percent ownership stake that satisfied the state’s minority investment criteria. Barden still held that stake when he died in 2011.

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Neil Bluhm

The Casino is now owned by a limited partnership called Holdings Acquisition Co. The state renewed its ownership license in 2011. None of the Casino’s key executives, from Bluhm to CEO Greg Carlin to General Manager Craig Clark are African-Americans, and according to Bloomberg News, there is no data available on the board of directors.

 

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