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Howard Stutz

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Group to carry on fight

5 Mar 2007

By Howard Stutz

NEW JERSEY AND MACAU -- An upstate New York-based citizens coalition that surfaced on the eve of last week's regulatory hearing into MGM Mirage's joint venture with a Chinese businesswoman in a Macau casino plans to continue its opposition to the relationship as the matter shifts to New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Nevada gaming regulators dismissed the 300-page packet of documents provided by the coalition's leader, the Rev. Gary Kellner, as material that had already been investigated by state gaming agents. And, MGM Mirage executives hinted Kellner and the group might have gotten its information from a rival casino operator.

In a statement, Kellner criticized the Gaming Control Board's unanimous suitability recommendation in the joint venture between MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho in the $1.1 billion MGM Grand Macau.

Ho is the daughter of controversial Chinese billionaire Stanley Ho, who has fought allegations for years that his Macau gambling halls have been involved with organized crime triads engaged in money laundering, loan sharking, drug trafficking and prostitution.

The Nevada Gaming Commission will meet later this month to act on the control board's recommendation, but in an interview, Kellner said he believes it's a foregone conclusion the commission will accept the finding. Instead, he hopes New Jersey gaming authorities, who are also investigating the suitability of the relationship between MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho, will reject the deal. Kellner said the packet of information was also given to New Jersey gaming authorities.

"This is not just another Nevada casino, this is a matter of national security," Kellner said.

Kellner's group, Family Focus, distributed the 300-page packet to gaming regulators and the media Monday, the day before the five-hour hearing by the Gaming Control Board in which Pansy Ho told regulators her father does not influence her business decisions.

Kellner, who said he has worked with several evangelical and Pentecostal Christian ministries, said his group was formed to fight a proposal by New York's Seneca Indian tribe, which wanted to build a casino near Buffalo, N.Y.

However, sources said a Web site on the coalition that provided a link to the documents in the MGM Mirage matter only surfaced on Feb. 25. Kellner contradicted his comments to the Review-Journal in a statement, saying he formed the group to oppose MGM Mirage.

Kellner said his organization has not received financial backing from anyone including MGM Mirage's rival casino operators.

Kellner's group has a name similar to that of Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based national conservative coalition that also opposes casino gambling. A spokesman for Focus on the Family told the Review-Journal the organization has heard of neither Kellner nor his organization.

Kellner said his group opposes all casino expansion, "but we realize we're not going to shut down Las Vegas and stop Indian gaming all together."

He said a "whistle-blower within a U.S. gaming regulatory body" provided him with the materials that made up the MGM Mirage packet. Included were national and international newspaper articles on Pansy Ho and Stanley Ho and two alleged "confidential investigative reports" on the business and personal dealings of Stanley Ho and Pansy Ho.

Kellner said his concern stemmed from a 2005 Wall Street Journal article that claimed a Hong Kong bank controlled by Stanley Ho was being investigated by U.S. authorities.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said he was given a copy of the 300-page packet prior to Tuesday's meeting and he was assured by staff that gaming agents were familiar with the materials.

He said gaming regulators had seen the investigative reports on the Hos but wouldn't disclose who produced the documents.

Gaming regulators did not explore allegations surrounding Stanley Ho during the hearing, saying the ultimate concern was whether or not Pansy Ho's business dealings were influenced by her father. Both Pansy Ho and her business associate and sister, Daisy Ho, told gaming regulators the bulk of their initial investment into the MGM Mirage joint venture came through money provided by their father in the form of a trust fund.

Following the hearing, MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni said the two investigative reports were sponsored by a "rival casino operator" but he wouldn't name the company.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said everything in the packet had been investigated.

"It was pretty clear that this is the work of someone other than this particular group," Feldman said.

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