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Dobson: Commission will remind Americans of gambling’s ‘downside’

WASHINGTON (BP)–The most significant result of the gambling commission on which he serves will come in reminding America of the “downside of gambling,” James Dobson said after the panel’s most recent meeting.
“The American citizenry has forgotten that,” Dobson told reporters. “Fifty years ago, everybody understood that gambling is addictive … that it’s dangerous, that it affects families, stability of marriages, that it undermines the natural stability of the home, that it affects children. They tend to get addicted more quickly. … It is related to crime. It’s related to suicide and bankruptcies and many social evils. People don’t know that now. Many people, even in the Christian community, see gambling as just another form of entertainment.”
For two years, Dobson has likely been public enemy No. 1 for the gambling industry. His appointment, along with that of eventual chair Kay Coles James, stirred criticism of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission by gambling proponents. He did nothing to allay the industry’s fears when he charged it with “attempting to prevent the commission from taking a fair and objective look at casinos and other forms of gambling” after the panel’s first field trip to the East Coast casino capital, Atlantic City, N.J. Two of his four monthly letters this year to 2.4 million constituents of Focus on the Family, the ministry he founded more than two decades ago, have been about the harmfulness of gambling.
While he has made it clear he opposes all gambling, Dobson said he recognizes the commission, which includes members of the industry, will not prohibit it. Still, he seems encouraged as the panel prepares to issue its report in June.
“We’re not going to be able to eliminate all gambling in this country, and it wouldn’t matter if we did, because the American people want it, and they are voting in such a way as to get it,” Dobson said. “So that’s not our task here, but we do need to look at how it is regulated; we do need to look at what its impact is.”
Even though the nine panel members appointed by President Clinton and congressional leaders are divided over the appropriateness of gambling, Dobson said he believes they are “working together well.”
“We still see things very differently, and we’ll continue to do so,” he said, “but I think there’s a pretty good faith effort to try to come to some agreement on many of these issues.
“I think it would not have credibility if the commission had been made up of nine people like myself … but I think my point of view ought to be represented there too. My complaint is that in the beginning the gambling industry was so threatened by me that they tried to imply that my lack of objectivity was somehow different from the lack of objectivity from the gambling industry itself with regard to other commissioners.”
While he doesn’t “like gambling of any sort,” there are some forms Dobson said he considers more harmful, such as lotteries, video poker and Internet gambling.
“The forms of gambling that worry me the most are those that are in your neighborhood and in the lives of your children. … [T]he closer to home it is, the more dangerous it is in my view,” he said.
Even though there were signals from the commission during its meeting March 17-19 in Washington that Internet gambling and lotteries could be the targets of strong criticism in the final report, Dobson hesitated to make predictions.
“I think in the end there probably will be a majority who will want us to make a pretty strong statement about the lottery and Internet gambling, but that remains to be seen,” he said. “I think there is a good-faith effort to try to come to some consensus, but I don’t want to understate the fact that we do have some pretty radical disagreements about gambling.”
It appeared during the most recent meeting the commissioners had “a real spirit of camaraderie,” as Dobson described it.
“It may surprise you, but I have enjoyed my work with the eight other commissioners,” he said. “I have developed, I hope, some lifetime friends here.”