Missouri levies no penalty on former Pinnacle CEO

By Chris Blank
Associated Press Writer / December 16, 2009

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.—Missouri regulators decided Wednesday not to punish a former casino executive who warned a St. Louis-area official that there would be political consequences for voting to help another company's project.

Dan Lee, the former CEO and chairman of Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., was accused of threatening a St. Louis County Council member who voted in November for a zoning change favored by a rival casino. An aide to council member Steve Stenger says that immediately after the vote, Lee asked her to tell her boss that: "He just made the biggest mistake of his political career, and I don't forget."

The Missouri Gaming Commission investigated and decided Wednesday that it would not take disciplinary action against Lee, but it is seeking $16,800 from him to pay for the probe. The Missouri State Highway Patrol, which conducts investigations for the commission, concluded it was an "isolated incident."

Several days after the St. Louis County Council meeting, Lee resigned from Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment. When interviewed by Missouri investigators, he apologized and said that his reaction was triggered by disappointment over the zoning vote, not having eaten that day and getting little sleep while traveling.

"I failed to maintain my composure through the long evening, and I have paid a very high price for that lapse," Lee said in a written statement to investigators. "Many people occasionally have bad days. I regret my failure to deal better with this one."

At issue was a zoning change sought by North County Development to build a casino and entertainment complex in north St. Louis County. Pinnacle is building a $350 million casino complex in south St. Louis County and owns two casinos in downtown St. Louis. Pinnacle's River City casino complex in Lemay is scheduled to open in early March, with 2,000 slot machines and 55 table games.

Lee said he approached Stenger immediately after the vote because he believed the meeting was over and backed away when he realized it was not. Lee denied physically or verbally threatening Stenger.

According to investigators, the council meeting room was full, and several people interviewed by Highway Patrol investigators said there was significant commotion after the vote when people started to leave. One St. Louis County police officer who was there for security said she was distracted when Lee approached Stenger because of a disturbance elsewhere in the crowd.

Attorney Jim Deutsch, who represented Lee before regulators, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Deutsch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday that Lee behaved improperly.

"There's no question the behavior was inappropriate," Deutsch said "The fact is, everybody has a bad day. Dan had his. Not all inappropriate behavior is a violation of statutes or regulations, and they're not authorized to punish bad ideas or bad behavior."