Chairman Barasch Retires From PGCB, Gov. Wolf Appoints Smyler to Role

Posted By Kevin Shelly on July 16, 2021

The guard is changing at the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Chairman David M. Barasch announced his retirement on Thursday. Appointed by Governor Tom Wolf in 2015, Barasch accepted a second three-year term in July 2018. All PGCB Commissioners are term-limited to six years.

The “chair” wasn’t empty for long. A few hours later, Gov. Wolf selected Commissioner Denise J. Smyler to be chairwoman. Smyler’s elevation made space for the appointment by Wolf of Nedia Ralston to the slot vacated by the newly named chairwoman.

Barasch held prominent roles before joining board

Barasch’s legal career spanned 47 years in state, federal and private practice. Some of Barasch’s prominent roles before joining the PGCB included:

  • Consumer Advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Special Assistant to Governor Bob Casey
  • U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
  • Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue
  • Barasch studied political science at Harvard University and is a graduate of the Cornell University Law School.

As a federal attorney, he gained national recognition for initiatives. They included the areas of health care fraud, public corruption, environmental injustice, and securities fraud. He served as the state’s advocate in the Three Mile Island nuclear accident litigation and also for a utility case that went to the Supreme Court.

Barasch lead PGCB through state’s gambling expansion

Gaming growth exploded during his watch as online casino gaming, retail, online sports wagering, and truck stop video gaming terminals (VGTs) changed the market in the Commonwealth. Fourteen brick-and-mortar casinos are currently open with Hollywood Casino York scheduled to open in August. More casino projects are in the pipeline.

From the 2018 launch of these new forms of legalized gaming, the revenue generated from these plus the established casino gaming market rose from $3.2 billion annually to an expected $4 billion in 2021. The gaming expansion has provided a tax windfall for the state.

PGCB Executive Director Kevin O’Toole said of Barasch in a press release:

“The Gaming Control board and the public benefitted from David Barasch’s deep experience and steady hand during the past six years.

“At no time in the history of this agency were those qualities more important in a board chair than during the past year of unexpected and unprecedented disruptions to the gaming industry due to Covid-19. During that period under Chairman Barasch, the agency not only carried out its casino oversight responsibilities but continued its important work of assuring the new forms of gambling were successfully rolled out.”

Barasch closes meeting with thanks

Wednesday’s PGCB meeting concluded Barasch’s time as chairman. During the meeting, he received praise, well-wishes, and thanks for his support and leadership.

Barasch closed the meeting by commenting on his time as PGCB chairman:

“I think it’s fitting I’m retiring from public practice where I first started my career. My six years have been challenging, but extremely rewarding for me.”

Barasch expressed thanks and gratitude to various people including the PGCB staff, Commissioners, and past and present Board members.

“I’m particularly proud of the work we have done together. The citizens of Pennsylvania are very fortunate to have such a dedicated team working on their behalf. They have repeatedly risen to the challenges of the ever changing world of gambling in Pennsylvania. In the last 18 months, in the face of COVID, they have performed beyond any reasonable set of expectations.”

He thanked Gov. Wolf for his trust and for appointing him to the position. Barasch heaped praise on Kevin O’Toole’s leadership.

“Kevin, you are an extraordinarily gifted regulator and leader and we are fortunate to have you. You have my highest respect and admiration.”

(Check back at Play Pennsylvania next week for our exit interview with Chairman Barasch.)

Smyler appointed PGCB chairwoman

Wolf appointed Smyler to the PGCB in Oct. 2019. Prior to her appointment, she served since January 2015 as the General Counsel of the Commonwealth. Before, she was in private sector law practice for 16 years. Smyler was an assistant district attorney, legal counsel for the Philadelphia Prison Commissioner, and chief legal counsel to the Philadelphia Police Commissioner.

Smyler is a graduate of New York University and earned her J.D. from Georgetown University

New PGCB member Ralston

Ralston is a Wolf insider. She served as director of the Southeast Office of the Governor. Before that, she was the governor’s deputy finance director.

“Nedia has been a great asset to the commonwealth over the years and I am confident she will continue to be so in her new position,” Governor Wolf said in a press release.

She has served with the Big Brothers Big Sisters, with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Philadelphia Conventions and Visitors Center, and the Community College of Philadelphia.

She studied political science at Hampton University.

Public input hearing on Penn State mini-casino proposal in August

The new-look board’s next big order of business is a public input hearing on Monday, August 16, 2021, at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

The hearing is meant to collect testimony on the mini-casino application by SC Gaming Op Co., LLC. The company wants to operate in College Township in Centre County. The applicants are a partnership of businessman Ira Lubert and Bally’s.

Lubert, a PSU and former trustee, won PA’s fifth and final Category 4 mini-casino license auction last September with a $10 million bid. Luburt and Bally’s are eyeing another mall-to-mini-casino transformation like Live! Casino Pittsburgh and the soon-to-open Hollywood Casino York.  The plan is to turn the former Macy’s at the Nittany Mall into a mini-casino.

Lead image via Dreamstime.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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