Sprague began developing his casino even before Vince Fumo, with Governor Rendell’s backing, wrote Act 71. Fumo had pushed that law through the Senate and House in the wee hours of July 4th, 2004, when everybody in Harrisburg was chomping at the bit to begin the summer recess. Much has been made of how certain provisions in the bill seemed to stack the deck — for example, how the new casinos couldn’t be within a 10-mile radius of existing gambling venues, which knocked out possible sites near the airport and in the Northeast, and how the Gaming Control Board was politically connected, as were those vying for the state licenses. Everyone knew that Fumo was close to Sprague’s investor group, and that the other chosen site, Foxwoods, is controlled by Rendell friends.
But that day back in 2006, as SugarHouse practiced for its presentation to the gaming board, Dick Sprague wasn’t taking any chances. The proposal was run through again, and again, and Sprague would lose his temper once more, yelling at another SugarHouse pitchman for his lackluster rehearsal so forcefully, with such rage, that PR rep Ken Snyder went up to Sprague afterward and said, “I’ve always heard you can make grown men cry. But I’ve never actually seen it until now.”
Sprague laughed his ass off — he thought that was funny as hell.
IN THE LAST few years, Vince Fumo needed Dick Sprague’s counsel more than ever. The federal probe into how he handled public money had begun in 2003, scores of people were questioned before a grand jury, and by the spring of ’06 the feds were closing in on a broad indictment. In play were whether Fumo used state employees to perform a host of personal chores for him, large and small and bizarre, such as plotting out the field where he hoped alpacas might someday graze on his farm north of Harrisburg; whether he used state money to stock each floor of each of his four houses with Oreck vacuum cleaners and myriad other goodies, which would lend credence to the belief, held by many people, that Fumo lives by spending other people’s money; and whether he directed his staff to erase e-mails discussing all of that. According to sources close to Fumo, Sprague said it was bullshit; the feds’ case wasn’t going anywhere. He was dismissive and confrontational with the government lawyers as well — Sprague doing what he does best. Big-time attorneys downtown, though, were in the Senator’s ear: Sprague is all wrong for this, he’s making it political, a confrontation, about him. He’s doing what you do on the floor of the Senate — but it doesn’t work in the federal courts.
Dick Sprague doesn’t like to make deals — he wins. And at that point, late ’06, the indictment coming, Vince Fumo still believed in him.
SugarHouse, to no one’s surprise, was awarded a casino license by the state’s gaming board in December ’06, and the entire team celebrated at the Hilton in Harrisburg. But then Sprague received word that City Councilman Frank DiCicco had immediately held a press conference on the apron of City Hall claiming the casino would be a pox on the Fishtown and Northern Liberties neighborhoods he represents. Sprague got stone-faced with rage. Never mind that DiCicco was Vince Fumo’s buddy — this was war.