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Jewish World Review June 21, 1999 /7 Tamuz 5759

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Econophone

Gambling commission issues report, rolls dice

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
IT'S SAID THAT POLITICIANS who don't want to deal with an issue form a study commission, then ignore its findings. Let's hope that's not the case with The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which issued its report on June 18.

The nine-member commission spent two years checking out the action in meccas like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, hearing the toll from America's fastest-growing addiction.

Lobbyists for the house and their purchased politicians first tried to kill the idea of a gambling panel. When that failed, they managed to reserve three spots for industry reps, rather like putting Joe Bananas and Cadillac Frank on an organized-crime task force.

Despite these handicaps, the commission is providing armor-piercing ammunition to those fighting to keep the blight from spreading.

As commission member Dr. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, notes, a decade ago only two states had casino gambling. Today, more than half are homes to these fantasy islands.

Americans gamble away $630 billion a year -- more than they spend on groceries. The industry's annual revenue exceeds $50 billion. South Carolina has 30,000 video poker machines in convenience stores, bowling allies and pizza restaurants.

The result is a growing addict population. The commission estimates that there are 5.5 million compulsive gamblers and another 10 million "at risk."

"Compulsive" means you clean out the kids' college accounts, take a second mortgage, pawn heirlooms -- do almost anything to raise the scratch to keep on betting. Those "at risk" are teetering on the precipice.

The 5 million compulsive gamblers generate other statistics -- bankruptcy, divorce, domestic abuse, embezzlement, etc. Tom Grey of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion claims compulsive gamblers commit crime at a higher rate than any other addict population.

The poor are particularly susceptible to the get-rich-quick illusion. Dobson said that at an inner-city convenience store he saw an old man dropping a bundle on lottery tickets. When asked about this, the man pathetically replied it was his "retirement fund."

The commission made 70 recommendations, including a moratorium on gambling expansion, requiring impact statements before gambling is admitted to an area, a ban on ATM machines in casinos, raising the legal age for betting, and signs warning of the dangers of gambling and odds prominently posted in all casinos.

The industry's representatives on the commission are counting on its paid political muscle to keep any of the recommendations from being adopted.

A decade ago, gambling PACs didn't even appear on the radar screen. Today, says Grey, they are B-52s love-bombing on both parties.

Since December 1995, the American Gaming Association PAC has contributed $194,000 to federal candidates and political parties. That's nothing, compared to individual casinos. Harrah's has given more than $1 million in the same period.

Late last month, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt flew to Las Vegas to pick up a check for $250,000 for his party from the chairman of Mirage casinos. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew recently proclaimed that he wants the Democrats to be "the party of the gaming industry."

Republicans will give them a run for the industry's money. In 1997, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott led a group of his GOP colleagues to Vegas for a fund-raiser at the MGM Grand.

Gambling money has decided gubernatorial contests (most recently in South Carolina and Alabama -- states targeted for expansion), congressional races and referendum campaigns.

Still, Grey is heartened by the commission's findings. Opponents now have a government report that says gambling is bad for you, and it comes from a panel where the industry was well-represented.

Grey: "In the past, when the industry wanted to come into an area, it was all jobs, painless revenue and entertainment. We countered with our ABCs (addiction, bankruptcy, crime and corruption). Finally, Washington has endorsed our position.

"Why are you proposing all of these restrictions if there isn't something inherently wrong with what's touted as a harmless pastime? We'll take this baby the commission has given us and carry it in our arms to the state legislatures."

The child should begin teething during a national campaign and could develop sharp incisors.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate