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Both sides on gambling issue commend commission’s report

WASHINGTON (BP)–A federal gambling commission’s final report, which calls for a pause in the expansion of a practice that has spread throughout the United States the last quarter-century, was welcomed by both critics and defenders of the gambling industry.
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission’s two-year study produced positive comments about the economic impact of some gambling enterprises, especially casinos, but included substantial evidence of its harm.
Much remains unknown about the eventual result of gambling’s explosive growth, the panel says in its report. The commissioners “agree that the country has gone very far very fast regarding an activity the consequences of which, frankly, no one really knows much about,” according to the report.
A “pause and reflection” is needed or the future “does indeed look worrisome,” the report says. “Were one to use the experience of the last quarter century to predict the evolution of gambling over the next, a likely scenario would be for gambling to continue to become more and more common, ultimately omnipresent in our lives and those of our children, with consequences no one can profess to know.”
Some government officials “at every level may wish to impose an explicit moratorium on gambling expansion while awaiting further research and assessment,” the report says.
For now, there is little prospect of gambling being outlawed, according to the report. “It is clear that the American people want legalized gambling and it has already sunk deep economic and other roots in many communities,” the report says. While gambling’s existence is a reality, the “balance between its benefits and costs, however, is not fixed.”
The panel, which included both gambling foes and industry insiders, split 5-4 in approving the suggestion of a moratorium, but most of the 76 recommendations in its report were adopted unanimously. Among the proposals are ones for impact statements predicting the economic and social effects when gambling is being introduced or significantly expanded, as well as for bans on state and local political campaign contributions from gambling operators, on legalized gambling by those under 21 years of age, on wagering on amateur athletic events and on Internet gambling. The panel also suggested the states are best suited to regulate gambling, with the exception of Indian and Internet gambling.
Some of both gambling’s enemies and friends found reasons to applaud the report.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called it a “good report” in light of the panel’s makeup. “It has far more pluses than it does minuses,” he said.
The report “exceeded my expectations,” said Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s specialist on gambling issues. Its recommendations “can help us bring the expansion of gambling under control. Unfortunately, the report does not call for the elimination of gambling in our country.”
Duke said he is especially pleased by the suggestion of a moratorium.
The report “recognizes that our governing bodies have put no thought into the expansion of gambling,” he said. “They are not operating by any plan. One could say that today we live in gambling sprawl because our governing agencies failed to plan before they acted.”
Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, said much of the report is “laudatory,” calling it a “fairer and more accurate picture of the commercial casino gaming industry than has sometimes been presented” previously. He especially expressed disapproval of the recommendations calling for bans on sports betting and on campaign contributions.
The AGA is the Washington-based lobbying office for the country’s major commercial casinos.
After a lengthy struggle over the existence of the gambling commission, then its makeup and finally its report, the battle appears headed for the federal and state legislatures. The commission has no authority to enforce its recommendations. Instead, it is dependent on Congress, the president, the states and Indian tribes to enact its proposals. In many of the panel’s recommendations, state legislatures are called on to act.
“We can expect our opponents in Congress and in the state legislatures to ‘cherry-pick’ the report to find a basis for legislation that will harm the industry,” Fahrenkopf said in a written statement. “We’ll be ready to fight that fight, but our opponents clearly did not get a boost they thought they would in the findings of the commission report.”
Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., the House of Representatives’ chief sponsor of the bill establishing the commission, said the panel did a “credible job against what began as great odds.”
He is considering legislation to enact such commission proposals as the bans on under-21 gambling and amateur sports betting, Wolf said. He also may seek a 1 percent tax on gambling revenues to provide for treatment of gambling addiction.
Wolf voiced disappointment the campaign ban recommendation did not extend to congressional and presidential candidates, saying most importantly a “way must be found to limit the gambling industry’s influence on the political process.”
Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, told The Washington Post the organization would focus on restricting convenience gambling, such as video poker in neighborhood stores, in states. Calling the report a “wake-up call for America on the dangers of gambling,” Grey said, “Are we in a better attack position today? I say, ‘Yes.'”
Land said on “For Faith and Family,” the ERLC’s radio program, “There will be a tremendous battle, a tremendous debate. It’s going to be a debate in your community. It’s going to be a debate in your neighborhood. It’s going to be a debate in your state. It’s going to be a debate in your church.”
Focus on the Family President James Dobson, who began his work as a commissioner as an outspoken foe of gambling, said at the June 18 news conference on the report’s release he was “even more convinced now that gambling is a destroyer. It undermines the work ethic. It is devastating to those that get hooked on” gambling.
The report is the first national one commissioned on gambling since 1976. At that time, only Nevada had casinos, only 13 states had lotteries and only Connecticut and New York had off-track betting.
All but two states now have some form of legalized gambling, according to the new report. Lotteries exist in 37 states and the District of Columbia. According to a survey conducted for the commission, 68 percent of Americans said they gambled in the last year. In 1998, those gambling in the United States lost $50 billion in legal betting.
Despite opposition from the gambling industry, Congress established the commission in 1996 with the purpose of studying the economic and social impacts of the practice. The president, leaders in the House and leaders in the Senate appointed three members each of the nine-person panel.
Among the NGISC’s other proposals:
— Convenience gambling should be outlawed in states where it exists, and states without convenience gambling should refuse to introduce it.
— State-sponsored lotteries should be blocked from adding casino-style instant games.
— Pari-mutuel gambling facilities, including racetracks, should be prevented from adding casino-style games primarily to salvage their business.
— Automated-teller machines and devices activated by credit or debit cards should be banned from casino floors and other areas where gambling occurs.
— “Cruises to nowhere,” which exist for the purpose of gambling off the coast of the United States, should be prohibited unless the state from which they originate legalizes such cruises.
— Warnings of the risks of gambling and, where feasible, the odds of winning should be prominently posted in all gambling facilities.
— Aggressive advertising of government-approved gambling should be banned, especially that targeting youth and low-income neighborhoods.
— The federal government should encourage foreign governments not to harbor Internet gambling operations.
— Congress should amend truth-in-advertising laws to apply to Indian gambling and state-run lotteries.
— “Best-practices” regulations for state government-sponsored lotteries should be developed.
— Gambling facilities should develop policies allowing gamblers voluntarily to request they be banned from entering an establishment for a specified time.
— Gambling facilities should refuse service to customers who show evidence of being problem or pathological gamblers.
— Students of elementary age to college age should be warned of the dangers of gambling.
The commission passed some recommendations commenting positively on forms of gambling, including one recognizing casinos have shown an ability to help local economies, especially in impoverished communities, by creating quality jobs and one suggesting different levels of government recognize tribal gambling can produce economic development.
The panel also approved numerous proposals calling for further research, including one calling for state and tribal governments to require gambling operations to fund research and treatment on problem gambling.
Most of the proposals passed unanimously, but recommendations opposed by at least two commissioners were the ban on wagering on amateur athletic contests and the restriction on pari-mutuel facilities adding casino-style games.
Among recommendations defeated were those calling for states to tax lottery tickets, for states to require casinos to issue to customers statements showing the amounts wagered and lost, and for Indian tribes to be blocked from placing casinos on newly acquired lands.
In addition to Dobson, other members of the commission were the panel’s chair, Kay Coles James, who recently resigned as dean of the school of government at Regent University; William Bible, a member of the Nevada Ethics Commission and a former chairman of the state’s Gaming Control Board; Terrence Lanni, chief executive officer of MGM Grand Inc., a gambling, entertainment and hotel company based in Las Vegas; Richard Leone, president of The Century Foundation and a former New Jersey treasurer; Robert Loescher, president of Sealaska Corp. and a member of the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska; Leo McCarthy, former lieutenant governor of California; Paul Moore, a radiologist from Pascagoula, Miss.; and John Wilhelm, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and chief negotiator for its 45,000-member local in Las Vegas.
The text of the report and its executive summary are available at the commission’s Internet site at www.ngisc.gov.