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Clinton completes gambling panel; industry has edge, opponents say

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton has announced his long-overdue appointments to a commission designed to study the impact of gambling, but the congressman who led the effort to establish the study said the White House’s selections give the gambling industry an advantage on the panel.

Nearly seven months after the congressionally established deadline for appointments to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, the president announced his selections April 29. They are Bill Bible, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board; Richard Leone, president of the Twentieth Century Fund and former New Jersey treasurer; and Robert Loescher, executive vice president of natural resources management of Sealaska Corp. and a member of the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska.

Clinton’s appointments complete the panel, which was established by Congress in July and was to have been filled by Oct. 3. The other six panelists are:

— James Dobson, president of the conservative Focus on the Family ministry;

— Paul Moore, a radiologist and friend of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R.-Miss., from Pascagoula, Miss.;

— Kay James, dean of the school of government at Regent University, where Christian television personality Pat Robertson is chancellor;

— Terrence Lanni, CEO and chairman of the board of MGM Grand Inc., a gambling, entertainment and hotel company based in Las Vegas, Nev.;

— Leo McCarthy, former California lieutenant governor; and

— John Wilhelm, secretary-treasurer of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and chief negotiator for the union’s 45,000-member local in Las Vegas.

While Dobson and James oppose gambling and Lanni and Wilhelm are gambling proponents, the others, except for Bible, have been portrayed as unaligned on the issue. Added to the selections of Lanni and Wilhelm, Clinton’s appointment of Bible completes a trio of “mouthpieces for the big Las Vegas casinos,” said Tom Grey of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, according to an Associated Press report in The Washington Post.

The president’s choices “tilt the balance of the commission in favor of the gambling industry,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., chief sponsor of legislation establishing the panel.

“The president had a golden opportunity to rise above politics and do what is right for the American people. Instead, the president declined to appoint three objective people to the commission and even appointed a promoter of the gambling industry.”

Clinton “failed the American people today and ignored America’s communities who want to know gambling’s effects on crime, corruption, cannibalization of businesses and the family,” Wolf said in a written statement.

Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission said “something like a jury process would have been preferable to a representative process” in the appointment of the panel.

“The work of the commission would have been more believable if the commissioners had all been genuinely objective in their evaluation of the facts regarding gambling’s impact on America,” said Duke, who handles the gambling issue for the CLC. “Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine how an objective assessment can come from this commission. The findings that the commission presents will most likely be forever suspect by people on both sides of the issue. To the extent that I understand the makeup of the commission, I’m not convinced that the people of America will be the primary consideration of the commission’s work.”

Duke added, “It is astonishing that a president who claims to be so concerned about the children of America would not have taken the significance of this commission more seriously.

“To be fair to President Clinton, it would appear that his appointments to the commission are less polarizing than most of the previous selections. In reference to the previous selections, to appoint people to the commission whose very livelihood may depend on its findings is absolutely ludicrous.”

The CLC was among the many supporters of the legislation. Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in June approved a resolution endorsing a gambling commission.
Defenders of the gambling industry appeared satisfied with the panel’s makeup.

Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, called the panel balanced and said its assignment provides “a remarkable opportunity for us to clear up and get rid of the stereotypes on gambling once and for all,” according to the AP report.

The legislation establishing the panel called for three members each to be appointed by Clinton, Lott and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R.-Ga.

Lott appointed Dobson and Moore, while Gingrich named James and Lanni. Following tradition, Lott and Gingrich gave an appointment each to the minority leaders, Sen. Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., and Rep. Richard Gephardt, D.-Mo., respectively. Daschle chose McCarthy, while Gephardt selected Wilhelm. Only Lott’s selections met the early October deadline.

A commission chairman has not been selected.

As a member of New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne’s cabinet in the 1970s, Leone opposed casino gambling when it was legalized in Atlantic City. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D.-N.J., who supported Leone’s selection to the panel, said, however, the nominee would be able to help block it from becoming a “right-wing moral crusade against the gaming industry,” The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. reported.

McCarthy opposed the lottery in California, according to AP.

While many Indian tribes have casinos on their land, the White House said Loescher’s tribe has only bingo games, AP reported.

Congress formed the panel in order to study the social and economic effects of gambling on government, communities, families, businesses and individuals. The commission is to make its report no more than two years after its first meeting. The cost of the commission will be about $5 million, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

The last national study of gambling came in 1976, when few states had legalized gambling. Two decades later, only Utah and Hawaii have no form of legal gambling.