Parx Casino a generous donor - where does its charity money go?

Parx in Bensalem, with $36.6 million in charitable donations since 2007, according to the Gaming Control Board, stands as Pennsylvania's most generous casino.
Parx in Bensalem, with $36.6 million in charitable donations since 2007, according to the Gaming Control Board, stands as Pennsylvania's most generous casino. (LICIA RUBINSTEIN)
Posted: October 28, 2013

Parx Casino in Bensalem has accounted for nearly three-quarters of all charitable donations by Pennsylvania casinos.

Parx, whose parent company is 86 percent owned by Watche "Bob" Manoukian, an ethnic Armenian who calls London home, has donated $36.6 million to charity over the last six years, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The next most generous casino was Rivers in Pittsburgh, which spent $3.2 million on charitable giving and community outreach over the same period - less than a tenth of the amount donated by its cross-state rival.

The charitable funds are in addition to the casino taxes that flow to host communities. They have totaled $100 million in the case of Bensalem and Bucks County since Parx opened in late 2006.

Where does the Parx charity money go?

Casino management has disclosed some "notable beneficiaries" in a regulatory filing but declined to say how much each received. State gaming regulators have twice denied right-to-know requests by Inquirer reporters for the amounts given to individual organizations.

Robert W. Green, chairman of Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., which owns Parx, said the donations have gone to international, national, state, and local organizations, with an emphasis on education and natural-disaster relief.

"It's not our policy to publicize donations to individual charities," Green said Oct. 10 after a hearing in Maryland, where Greenwood wants to build an $800 million Parx Casino near Washington.

Parx's donations and community service by Ron Davis, its chief diversity officer and director of community development, have generated loyalty and gratitude in Bucks County.

"I am very happy that Parx Casino and Ron Davis are in our life," said Karen Forbes, executive director of YWCA Bucks County in Bensalem. Forbes said that, since 2007, Parx has given about $10,000 annually to the YWCA.

A spokeswoman for Parx, Carrie Nork Minelli, cited Greenwood Gaming's status as a private company as a reason for the lack of disclosure. Another time, she said recipients wanted privacy.

"Nothing crazy is going on here," she said. "Some of the bigger donations they just don't disclose."

During a July hearing in Massachusetts, another state where Greenwood would like to build a casino, Green said, "The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a 60 percent shareholder in that business," referring to the share of gambling dollars Parx pays to the state, according to a transcript from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Minelli had no response when asked about Green's comment, which emphasized the public nature of the money Parx takes in.

Parx's majority owner Manoukian, 68, who made a fortune as an agent for Brunei's royal family in the 1980s and 1990s, and his wife, Tamar, are significant philanthropists in London through a private foundation.

Major beneficiaries in recent years include the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and the Royal Opera House, according public filings on a British website, OpenCharities.org.

In the United States, a Pasadena, Calif., high school sponsored by the Armenian General Benevolent Union announced an $11 million donation from the Manoukians in 2009. The high school was renamed in their honor.

Asked whether the Parx donations were, in effect, Manoukian's gifts, Minelli said: "I really can't say."

Manoukian, who has global business interests, was unavailable to comment, Minelli said Thursday.

A survey of two dozen recipients listed among "notable beneficiaries" in a Parx regulatory report confirmed many donations, but nothing that, in aggregate, approached the total reported by Parx.

There are additional recipients, Minelli said: "We have not released names of some organizations due to their privacy requests."

It's not clear why recipients would not want to be public about Parx's support.

"I haven't seen the situation where a charity organization went ahead and accepted a gift from someone they would not want to be affiliated with," said Laura Solomon, an Ardmore lawyer who has specialized in work for nonprofits for 20 years.

Numerous nonprofits among the 37 "notable beneficiaries" listed by Parx could not be reached for information about their donations from Parx.

The biggest single gift confirmed by The Inquirer was $100,000 to the American Red Cross for relief after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Another significant beneficiary is Bensalem Rescue Squad Inc., which has publicized several annual donations of $84,000 and more to help pay for the operation of a third ambulance during peak hours. Executive director Tom Topley could not be reached for an update.

Several nonprofit leaders were surprised to see their groups on the list in a December 2012 report.

After some digging, Linda Wolfson, executive director of Vita Education Services, which counts Parx employees among its clients, found a $500 gift from Parx from October 2007. "They are suggesting they are contributing to Vita," she said. "We would welcome future contributions."

State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, whose district includes the casino, said Parx had been exceedingly generous with groups that were helping the "neediest and most vulnerable."

He said gifts he knew of were in the "$5,000 to $10,000 to $20,000 range."

"That must mean they are giving to a lot of different groups," DiGirolamo said. "That's what I would say, not knowing for sure."


hbrubaker@phillynews.com

215-854-4651

@InqBrubaker

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