Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1999-28

Advisory Opinion No. 1999-28
Advisory Opinion No. 1999-28

Acceptance Of Free Or Reduced-Cost Meals By Division Of Special
Revenue Employees From Regulated Entities

Thomas Rotunda, Executive Director of the Division of Special Revenue ("DSR"), has asked how the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., and specifically the Code’s gift law, applies to the acceptance of free or reduced-cost meals by DSR employees from the Mohegan Sun and Foxwood Casinos.

DSR employees must remain on-site for all meals at the casinos, and are not scheduled for meal breaks since they are considered "on-call" while there. At each casino, there is a basic cafeteria area where neither casino employees nor DSR employees are charged for any items, which include soft drinks, salad bar, continental breakfast foods and simple desserts. Each casino cafeteria also has an entree area: the cost to DSR employees for these hot meals range from $2.50 at Foxwoods to $4.00 at the Mohegan Sun.

The State Ethics Commission has previously ruled that the Gaming Enterprise which operates the Foxwoods casino is a business subject to regulation by DSR for purposes of the application of the Code of Ethics. See Advisory Opinion No. 92-22, 54 Conn. L. J. 14, p. 13C (10/6/92). Similarly, the Foxwoods Casino itself, and the Mohegan Sun Casino, are also regulated entities. Therefore, the gift rules of the Code of Ethics apply to any benefits given by the casinos to state employees.

Under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(m), a state employee or public official may not knowingly accept, directly or indirectly, any gift from an individual or entity regulated by the employee or official’s agency. Exempted from this gift ban is "food or beverage or both, costing less than fifty dollars in the aggregate per recipient in a calendar year, and consumed on an occasion or occasions at which the person paying, directly or indirectly, for the food or beverage, or his representative, is in attendance." Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(9). Also exempted from the ban is "anything having a value of not more than ten dollars," provided that the aggregate value of all such things provided by one donor to one recipient do not exceed fifty dollars in any calendar year. Conn.Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(16).

Applying these rules to the facts under consideration, the food and beverage exception does not extend to these meals, since it is unlikely that a representative of the casino would accompany a DSR employee to a meal in the manner contemplated by the exception. Under 1-79(e)(16), DSR employees could accept individual items worth less than $10 up to $50 per year from each of the casinos. Beyond this limit, however, acceptance of meals by DSR employees from the casinos is prohibited by the ethics laws.

The same reasoning applies whether the meal is offered free or at a reduced cost. The value of the benefit must be calculated at the fair market rate. Therefore, if DSR employees continue to eat food and beverages supplied by a casino, the casino must charge them the fair market value of the items provided.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:57 AM