The Feud

After years as the closest of friends, two of Philadelphia’s most brilliant and powerful men, Dick Sprague and Vince Fumo, have turned bitter enemies. A tale of influence, money, accusations of betrayal — and the impact their shattered relationship is having on the rest of us

Nigro would lose his spot on the bench in 2005, a victim of the legislative pay raise. Vince Fumo was only too happy to let him become the scapegoat, and they’re still bitter enemies.

These days, Dick Sprague helps watch over the State Supreme Court from his perch on its disciplinary committee, which is chaired by Bill Lamb, an ex-justice who is one of Sprague’s closest friends. So close that Fumo sometimes referred to them in phone conversations as “the tennis player” — Sprague — and his partner — Lamb.

To bring all this up to what’s happening now, Vince Fumo, remember, wrote the bill that made casinos legal in Pennsylvania. Woven into the bill is a provision that legal challenges to Act 71 get fast-tracked past the lower courts and go right to the Supremes. At press time, in the 11 separate matters involving SugarHouse that have been decided by the court, the casino has gotten a favorable ruling 11 times.

THROUGH THE YEARS, there were people who warned Vince Fumo about Dick Sprague, warned him that the closeness he felt for his friend wasn’t reciprocated, that Sprague’s side of the relationship was much more utilitarian, or worse: that Sprague was using him.

Whether that’s true or not, it is patently clear, at least, how much Dick Sprague wants that casino.

Back in the spring of 2006, Sprague’s investment group was practicing for the presentation of its proposal to the state gaming board. They spent an entire Palm Sunday in fellow investor Dan Keating’s office, working out the kinks; the presentation would be held at Drexel that week.

Neil Bluhm would give part of their proposal. He’s a billionaire developer from Chicago, and the key money behind SugarHouse. But Bluhm was mumbling through his rehearsal, making lousy eye contact, pulling at the hair on the side of his head and twirling it like a nervous teenager. Dick Sprague, watching this, had had enough:

I don’t know why you’re not fucking bald, he said to Neil Bluhm, glaring at him. Bluhm stopped twirling his hair.

Moneybags or not, Bluhm, sweet and avuncular by nature, wasn’t running this project; it was Sprague’s baby. He is the political and legal heavyweight behind SugarHouse. Sprague may be rich by anybody’s standards, but he wants this casino for Tom and Barbara, his children, whose stakes are each 6.55 percent, more than their father’s.