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Dobson charges gambling industry with undermining panel’s study

WASHINGTON (BP)–Family advocate James Dobson, a member of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, charged the gambling industry is endangering the panel’s assignment.
In a news release, Dobson warned the gambling industry and its allies “are attempting to prevent the commission from taking a fair and objective look at casinos and other forms of gambling.”
“This commission may represent the last opportunity for gambling in its many forms to be evaluated in an objective, scientific manner,” the president of Focus on the Family said. “That will be impossible if this multi-billion dollar industry continues to devote its vast
resources and influence to propaganda, intimidation and obfuscation.”
The gambling industry’s chief Washington lobbyist, Frank Fahrenkopf, called Dobson’s charge a “hysterical attack” that is “unfounded and unjustified.”
Dobson’s statement came a week after the first field trip by the commission in a congressionally initiated two-year study of the social and economic effects of gambling. The nine-member panel, selected by President Clinton and the leaders of both houses of Congress, is to issue a report in 1999.
The commission’s first trip was Jan. 21-22 to Atlantic City, N.J., the premier East Coast site of casinos. In his Jan. 30 statement, Dobson said of the 23 people making presentations to the panel, only two were
“mildly critical.” The number cited by Dobson consisted of witnesses on three panels — politicians, plus commentators on the social and economic impact of gambling on Atlantic City, a Focus on the Family spokesman said.
“Rather than hearing from knowledgeable people representing both sides of the issue, we were subjected to a barrage of enthusiastic speeches from state and local officials and others beholden to the gambling industry,” Dobson said.
“Missing was any discussion of suicides related to gambling, compulsive gambling among casino employees, the proliferation of pawn shops and ‘cash-for-gold’ establishments along Atlantic City’s main street or the explosion of bankruptcies in Atlantic County.
“Where are the new businesses that supposedly sprang up after casinos came to town, and how many have fled? What is the effect on a community of being dominated by one industry? What about prostitution and poverty in the city?”
He also raised questions about the rates of unemployment and crime in Atlantic City.
“These are the issues we should have examined carefully, but they were avoided or circumvented,” he said. “Despite this biased and distorted representation, commissioners (John) Wilhelm and (Terrence) Lanni called the hearing ‘balanced.'”
Lanni and Wilhelm are members of the pro-gambling contingent on the sharply divided commission. Lanni is chief executive officer and chairman of the board of MGM Grand Inc., a gambling, entertainment and hotel company based in Las Vegas. Wilhelm is 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. The other panel member considered favorable to gambling is Bill Bible, chairman of
the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Beside Dobson, the other appointee identified as anti-gambling is chairman Kay Coles James, dean of Regent University’s school of government in Virginia Beach, Va., and a former official in the Bush administration.
Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, said in a written response to Dobson, “Because he has not heard what he wants to hear about the gaming industry, he is attacking the integrity of (James) and her staff, who set the meeting agenda, as well as the other seven commissioners. It is obvious that Mr. Dobson is attempting to derail the commission’s efforts to complete a fair and accurate assessment of the U.S. gaming industry, because the evidence presented has not supported his preconceived objectives.”
It is because he wants an impartial look at gambling that Dobson made his charge, said Ron Reno of Focus on the Family. “He wants a fair accounting of this industry,” so the panel can provide more than a “one-sided” report, Reno told BP.
The other commission members, all who have been portrayed as unaligned, are Richard Leone, president of the Twentieth Century Fund and former New Jersey treasurer; Robert Loescher, executive vice president of natural resources management of Sealaska Corp. and a member
of the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska; Leo McCarthy, former California lieutenant governor, and Paul Moore, a radiologist from Pascagoula, Miss.
Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R.-Miss., and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R.-Ga., each named three people to the commission.
The gambling industry opposed formation of the commission. After the panel’s establishment by Congress, however, the industry worked to have allies appointed. Industry spokesmen also criticized the selection of James as chairman. A few weeks before the commission’s visit to
Atlantic City, pro-gambling forces attacked the panel’s agenda, charging it was not designed to show the city’s benefits from gambling in addition to its problems, according to a Jan. 20 report in The New York Times.
The commission’s next trip is scheduled for March to Boston, where it will study state lotteries, according to Citizen Issues Alert, a publication of Focus on the Family.