Amanda Green Hawkins
by Christian Morrow
Courier Staff Writer
Last week the Rivers Casino replied to Allegheny County Councilwoman Amanda Green Hawkins letter listing incidents of alleged discrimination against Black casino patrons in advance of their scheduled Aug. 29 meeting.
Hawkins said she’d been out of town, and hasn’t read the casino’s letter, but then she didn’t have to.
“I’m a lawyer. I’ve responded to discrimination charges before, so I know the drill. I could have written it and I haven’t even seen it,” she said. “They need to realize they have an image problem. If people in the community are saying these things it’s a problem. This response doesn’t address the problem.”
In the interim, however, new charges of discrimination surfaced when a local DJ told KDKA-TV he was instructed not to play ‘Black music” during an 80s music night event at the Rivers.
Bill Bara said he was playing “Friends” by Whodini as part of the 80s set when a supervisor rushed up to him and told him to stop.
“He said, ‘Don’t play this (expletive) rap music,’” Bara told Jon Delano. “So I asked him it’s ‘80s night right, are you sure this is what…? ‘Yes, coming from my boss out of Chicago. This is the orders.’ No Black music.”
Bara did not respond to calls and email for additional information. The casino said nothing beyond what was in its letter to Hawkins that in directing third-party DJs, it seeks to “appeal to our diverse clientele, and race is not a factor.”
Hawkins said she also just learned of Bara’s charge.
“Not play Black music? Why? Does that mean all Black music,” she said. “I remember ‘Friends’ and it’s a rather tame song. And the acts the casino referenced as geared towards an African-American audience—I was at Billy Ocean, and I saw more Caucasians there than Blacks. Hopefully when we meet, whoever comes is ready to talk about repairing the casino’s image in the community.”
Saying that the casino has “zero tolerance for racism of any kind,” Rivers General Manager Craig Clark gave his explanation of the alleged disparate treatment given to various Black groups, beginning with the Ruff Ryders incident first reported by The New Pittsburgh Courier Online July 26.
The motorcycle club’s July 19 meet-and-greet party in the casino’s Drum Bar was shut down early because of “overcrowding.” Initial reports claimed the DJ was told—and reiterated—to shut down because there were “too many Blacks.” The DJ told the Courier he never made any such remark, and Ruff Ryders President Ken Wright said he did not hear it personally but was told about it.
In his response to Green Hawkins, Clark repeated that he met with Wright and refunded the nearly $500 the group paid for reserved bottle service for two 10-person tables. But then says “a representative from the Ruff Ryders informed Rivers Security that 400 guests had been invited.”
That number is news to Wright. Even if it were, nowhere near 400 people showed up. Wright, in fact said he was told there was only a problem with two guests. That point is not addressed in the letter.
Wright said he would give them the benefit of the doubt and was pleased to get a refund, but still says the treatment was discriminatory.
“I’ve been there on Friday nights before,” he said. “The crowd was no bigger than usual, no louder than usual. The only difference was it was Blacker than usual.”
Another allegation Hawkins referenced was that the Rivers had double-charged the Omega Psi Phi fraternity for a party. The casino said that is not true, and that fraternity Basileus Rahmon Hart confirmed that.
“I was alarmed to hear that accusation—it was a serious charge. But there is no way for us to know if we paid more for the same service because no one has provided evidence that someone paid less,” Hart told the Courier.
In his response, Clark said not only was the fraternity not overcharged, but it also received a $3,000 discount.
“We were not charged for the dance floor set-up, or for an open bar, and the rumor that (former Pittsburgh Steeler) Willie Colon paid the tab is ridiculous,” he said. “We have never had a problem with The Rivers. Our guests enjoyed themselves. We have no complaints.”
Hawkins letter also referenced complaints by promoter B. Marshall that the casino refused to sponsor his “stop the violence” event for Black youth, and that it cancelled boxing events by promoter Troy Ridgley in its Drum Bar and Wheelhouse Bar & Grill because they drew large Black audiences.
As to the first charge, Hawkins noted that she had taken her own toddler to concerts in the casino’s outdoor amphitheater more than once. Clark’s response skipped that and repeated that its policy is not to sponsor “organizations whose principal audience or benefactors are under 21 years of age.”
The boxing events have not been cancelled, Clark said. They were moved from the Drum Bar for overcrowding and from the Wheelhouse after bottles were thrown at their screen during those events. Live and televised events, he said, would be held in the banquet room or in the amphitheater.
Clark also denied failing to promote, then closing down, “Casino Royal Nights” promoted by Jay Legacy in 2011 because they drew large Black audiences.
“The allegation that ‘Casino Royal Nights’ attracted too many African-Americans is untrue,” he wrote. “The fact is that after four engagements, the program failed to attract enough customers and was discontinued.”
Lastly, Clark responded to the charge that the casino does not hold any events that would attract a large African-American audience, with the claim that Billy Ocean, Mary Wilson of The Supremes, The Crystals, The Platters, and both Temptations and Earth Wind & Fire tribute bands did so.
The meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 29 at Hawkins’ county council office.
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