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Petition of Atlantic City Press Requesting Certain Files of Casino Control Com'n

Decided: November 21, 1994.

IN RE PETITION OF THE ATLANTIC CITY PRESS REQUESTING CERTAIN FILES OF THE CASINO CONTROL COMMISSION.


On appeal from the Casino Control Commission.

Before Judges King, D'Annunzio and Eichen.

King

The opinion of the court was delivered by

KING, P.J.A.D.

In this case we resolve a dispute between two agencies, the Casino Control Commission (Commission) and the Division of Gaming Enforcement of the Attorney General's Office (Division) on a question of law involving the casino industry. The Atlantic

City Press (Press) sparked the dispute by a request for customarily confidential information from the Commission about the Division's investigatory reports of applicants for licenses and registrations. The Commission decided to provide the Press with the confidential information. The Division opposed the Commission's decision and appeals. We agree with the Division and reverse.

I

On April 29, 1994 the Press filed a petition with the Commission seeking to obtain the Division's investigatory reports and information on a dozen individuals and businesses involved in the casino industry. The Division opposed the request. On June 8, 1994 the Commission held a public hearing with briefs and oral arguments. On June 22 the Commission issued an opinion granting the Press' petition. The Commission decided to disclose the Division's investigatory reports with redaction of any confidential data unrelated to the Press' declared interest in "Asian organized crime."

The Division filed this appeal from the Commission's decision and moved for a stay. N.J.S.A. 5:12-110(a) of the Casino Control Act (Act) specifically provides for judicial review where the Division is aggrieved by a decision of the Commission. See also N.J.S.A. 5:12-76(b)(4); State (Division) v. Gonzalez, 273 N.J. Super. 239, 641 A.2d 1060 (App. Div. 1994), appeal pending. We granted a stay of the Commission's decision and order and we accelerated this appeal.

II

The Act, N.J.S.A. 5:12-1 to -210, comprehensively regulates the casino industry and seeks to achieve many objectives. Among them are promotion of "public confidence and trust in the credibility and integrity of the regulatory process and of casino operations" and ensuring that the industry will not be infiltrated by organized crime. N.J.S.A. 5:12-1(6), (7). To implement these policies, the Act provides a two-tiered regulatory system. The Commission has regulatory authority over the licensing and registration

of persons operating in the casino industry. N.J.S.A. 5:12-64. The Division of Gaming Enforcement, in the Department of Law and Public Safety of the Office of the Attorney General of New Jersey, investigates applicants for licensing and registration and provides this information to the Commission. N.J.S.A. 5:12-76.

In order to provide the Division with background material necessary to its investigation, all applicants are required to disclose extensive personal information. Applicants also must execute an unqualified release of information authorization for the records of institutions such as courts, banks, employers, government agencies, and educational institutions.

In 1992, the United States Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, issued a series of reports on Asian organized crime. An exhibit to one of the reports contained a chart entitled: "Asian Organized Crime - Influence in the Asian Entertainment Industry." The chart contained the names of individuals and businesses, dividing them into two categories: 1) identified Asian crime figures and 2) entertainment industry participants not known as involved in organized crime. The chart demonstrated purported relationships between the individuals and businesses by connecting lines between them.

Another Senate Subcommittee exhibit demonstrated that not all of the names on the chart were members of organized crime groups but that all had direct ties and associations with organized crime figures. The exhibit stated that "each individual identified has been named by two or more independent law enforcement agencies as a member or associate of an organized crime group" and added that additional sources "filed under seal with the Subcommittee" were used for many of the names. The Senate's report also discussed those listed on the chart, identifying some as having past or present connections to the Atlantic City casino industry.

On April 29, 1994 Kevin Shelly, described on the Press' letterhead as a "staff writer," petitioned the Commission for copies of

Division reports on twelve individuals and businesses identified in the Senate report. On May 13, 1994 Shelly amended his request for reports, and sought disclosure of "whether or not your files reflect any information indicating that these people or companies have any ties or associations with Asian organized crime figures or organizations." At the June 8 hearing the Press reverted to the original request for the Division's investigative reports.

At the June 8 Commission meeting, in an attempt to determine the nature of the Press' request, the Commission discussed the whereabouts and licensing-registration status of the individuals listed on the petition. Although the Commission and Shelly seemed somewhat uncertain about many of those listed, Commissioner Larue stated that "so far as we know, it's only eleven that we haven't released, because one is public information, and it could be even as few as four or five, because not all of them have gone through a procedure with us."

In opposing public disclosure of its reports, the Division argued that the State Constitution, the Casino Control Act, and our case law forbid such disclosure. The Division also argued that because of the explicit language of the Act, neither the common-law right of ...


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