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Dobson decries gambling, calls lobby ‘most powerful force in government’

WASHINGTON (BP)–His service on the federal panel studying the impact of gambling has convinced James Dobson the activity is a “destroyer” and the lobby behind it is the “most powerful force in government today,” the president of Focus on the Family said.
Dobson, widely recognized as the leading family advocate among American evangelical Christians, made his assessment in his January newsletter, which is sent to about 2.4 million constituents of Focus on the Family. Dobson is one of nine members of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which is to issue a report in June after a two-year investigation.
His 19 months on the panel have caused him to “remain radically opposed” to gambling, said Dobson, whose appointment to the commission was criticized by the gambling industry. Gambling fever “threatens the work ethic and the very foundation of the family,” he wrote.
“Thirty years ago, gambling was widely understood in the culture to be addictive, progressive and dangerous,” Dobson wrote. “Parents taught their children about its evils, and some families, including my own, would not even permit playing cards in the home. More recently, however, betting has been given a face-lift by the industry — even changing the name from gambling to ‘gaming.’ The effect of this relentless propaganda has been dramatic. Most Americans now think of gambling not as a vice or unsavory habit, but as harmless entertainment.”
Dobson cited statistics, newspaper accounts and testimony before the commission in supporting his criticism of gambling’s widespread, negative impact. Among the statistics he used are:
— Americans spend more money each year on gambling than on groceries.
— Five to 8 percent of adolescents are addicted to gambling.
— More money is spent in Mississippi on gambling than on all retail sales.
— Children 4 years old may put money legally in South Carolina’s 30,000-plus video poker machines as long as they don’t accept any winnings.
Nevada, which legalized gambling nearly 70 years ago and is the country’s leading gambling state, ranks first in several social ills, Dobson said: Suicide; divorce; high-school dropouts; homicide against women, and gambling addiction.
Gambling “preys on the desperation of the poor and its promises are based on lies,” Dobson said. Among the lies, Dobson said, is the assurance state lotteries will produce huge funds for public schools, “despite studies showing that after states legalize lotteries they actually reduce spending for education.”
In response to the letter, American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf said it shows Dobson “never had any intention of taking a fair and unbiased look at gaming.”
“It’s unfortunate that after 19 months as a commissioner he still cannot accept the fact that the gaming industry provides more than 1 million well-paying jobs with benefits and is an entertainment choice for millions of other Americans. Instead, he has chosen to rely on old stereotypes and anecdotes, ignoring official state and local records documenting the positive economic and social impact” of gambling and the testimony of public officials and religious leaders, Fahrenkopf said in a written statement.
Dobson, in his letter, contended the gambling industry has extended its influence through its sizable spending on elections. The anti-gambling governors of Alabama and South Carolina lost their re-election races in November to candidates supported by gambling forces, Dobson said. The industry spent $10 million in Missouri and more than $70 million in California to win gambling initiatives, he wrote.
Of the South Carolina race won by Democrat Jim Hodges, USA Today reported Jan. 8 its investigation showed gambling contributions “lifted a little-known candidate and his moribund party to victory” in a Republican state. About half of the $6 million spent in the Hodges campaign came from video-poker operators, according to USA Today.
David Beasley, the defeated Republican governor who had called for a ban on video poker, said, according to the Jan. 8 Charlotte Observer, “Hopefully, I can be a standing witness to any political figure in the nation to say it’s worth risking it all for something you truly believe in. I don’t think there’s any question that had we not touched video poker it would be elementary; we’d be here in a second administration.”
Both Democrat and Republican leaders in Washington have accepted large donations from gambling interests, Dobson said. In recent years, gambling gifts have totaled $7.6 million to Democrats and $6.1 to Republicans, he wrote.
Congress “rarely opposes anything desired by the gambling industry,” including denying the gambling panel the authority to subpoena witnesses, Dobson wrote.
“This is how government works in Washington these days,” he wrote. “While the needs of families are ignored, such as the unfair ‘marriage penalty tax’ that was left intact last year after Republicans promised specifically to repeal it, our representatives continue dancing to the beat of gambling interests across the nation. They should feel our displeasure.
“It is my belief that NO special interest group should ever be given such power over the electoral and legislative process as occurs today. As long as money sets the agenda, gambling will continue to grow and shape the fabric of American culture.”
The Republican National Committee, meeting Jan. 21-22 in Washington, killed a resolution that would have prohibited it from accepting contributions from gambling interests and from making donations to candidates who support gambling. The resolutions committee defeated the proposal.
“It is extremely disheartening to realize that the pro-family party is unwilling to put their pockets where they say their convictions are,” said Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “For a moment the RNC had an opportunity to do the right thing, but when it came to the critical juncture, the RNC decided that winning was more important than values.
“May it be only the first round in the battle to rid politics of the incredible money juggernaut of organized gambling,” said Duke, who is a specialist on gambling issues.
In another example of the extent of gambling in American society, a recently released study showed 72 percent of student-athletes surveyed had gambled in some form since beginning college. The survey, which was performed by University of Michigan researchers, was mailed to 3,000 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I athletes: 1,500 football players, 750 men’s basketball players and 750 women’s basketball players. The response rate was 25 percent.
Findings in the survey included:
— Nearly 35 percent of athletes have gambled on sports, including more than 45 percent of men.
— More than 5 percent of male athletes have been paid for playing poorly in a contest, bet on their own games or provided inside information.
In the last two years, several leading NCAA Division I schools have been racked by gambling incidents involving football and basketball players. The schools include Boston College, Fresno State University and Northwestern University.
“Here are men and women who willfully risk years of hard-earned physical excellence in order to put some money in their pockets,” said the ERLC’s Duke.
“There is something terribly wrong when so many of our finest young men and women are deciding that the key to happiness is not personal excellence but financial gain. The value system that has caused this travesty is opposed to everything that is Christian. We must find a way to elevate personal excellence over personal gain in the minds of our young people.”
The next meeting of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission is scheduled Feb. 8-10 in Virginia Beach, Va. The panel is expected to begin discussing its report, which is to be issued by June 20.
The commission was established in 1996 to study the social and economic impacts of gambling. The panel has held field meetings since the beginning of 1997 at such locations as Atlantic City, N.J.; Boston; Chicago; San Diego; Biloxi, Miss.; and Las Vegas, Nev.
Focus on the Family, a 30-minute radio broadcast that reaches from 3 to 5 million listeners on weekdays, dedicated three of its January programs to gambling. Dobson’s February letter also will be about the subject, he said.