HARRISBURG -- A former top lawyer for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board who quit less than three months ago now works for a law firm where he represents two slot-machine casinos, helped by court rulings that exempt lawyers from "revolving door" laws meant to curb favoritism.
Kevin Hayes, the board's former director of gaming operations, is the latest of several lawyers to leave the regulatory agency and go to work on behalf of casino operators licensed by the state.
The 2004 state law that legalized slot machines contains a "revolving door" policy that requires top and midlevel gaming board employees to wait one year before working in the industry.
But the state Supreme Court has said that a similar provision in state ethics law does not apply to lawyers, essentially giving legal cover to gaming board lawyers who want to work in the casino industry without waiting for a year, legislative lawyers said.
In an interview, Hayes, who also registered as a lobbyist, said he is doing basic legal work for casinos and has not lobbied for them or appeared in front of the gaming board on their behalf. He also said he has fully adhered to ethics rules prescribed by the state and courts, and left the gaming for personal reasons, not to advance his career.
"I worked as hard as any public employee could," said Hayes, who works in a Scranton law firm with another former gaming board lawyer, James Doherty. "I think it's unfair to say that I did anything that wasn't aboveboard."
Hayes and Doherty are listed by the gaming board as working for Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and Philadelphia Park Casino.
Post-employment restrictions are part of the Pennsylvania ethics code that governs public employees and are common in states that regulate the gambling industry as a way to curb industry influence over regulatory agencies.
But the application of such laws is complicated in Pennsylvania, where the constitution gives the power to regulate lawyers to the state Supreme Court.
For years, the courts have allowed lawyers in Pennsylvania to leave all kinds of state government jobs and represent clients in front of their former agencies, thanks to judicial rulings that exempt lawyers from a one-year waiting period in the state's ethics law.
Regardless, Pennsylvania's revolving door policy at the gaming board falls well short of the law that covers New Jersey's gambling regulatory agency.
Any New Jersey Casino Control Commission employee who leaves faces a two-year minimum wait before working for a casino company licensed by the agency. That prohibition includes lawyers, and doubles in length for commission members and senior staff members.
The waiting period in New Jersey even applies to an entire law firm that hires a commission lawyer. In Pennsylvania, the gaming board's former chairman, Tad Decker, left the agency last year to work for a law firm, Cozen O'Connor, that has clients among Pennsylvania's casino operators.