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Gambling foes win 3 of 6 state ballots

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Nov. 4 election brought mixed results for anti-gambling activists, with three statewide gambling initiatives turned down but three others adopted.

Victories for anti-gambling forces included rejections of casinos in Ohio and Maine and outlawing of greyhound racing in Massachusetts.

However, voters approved a lottery in Arkansas, repealed gambling restrictions in Missouri and OK’d the return of slot machines to Maryland.

The gambling industry prevailed in states where they outspent their opposition by margins of 10-1, said Les Bernal, executive director of StopPredatoryGambling.org.

Where anti-gambling forces had a more level playing field to spread their message, they carried the day, Bernal said.

“When you tell people the truth about this and you have the ability to go on TV and get the message out … people will respond to that,” Bernal said. “But when you’re dominated by a 10-1 margin, it’s hard. You’re constantly barraged by this deceptive and misleading advertising.

“The game plan for us is clear. We need to grow our fundraising operations across the country as well as the number of citizens who are involved in this effort. When we do that, it’s clear from [Nov. 4’s] results we’re going to win.”

The state-by-state results:

— In Ohio, Issue 6 concerned a casino resort in Wilmington, about 55 miles northeast of Cincinnati. The $600 million casino would have paid a tax of up to 30 percent on its gross receipts for gaming, less payouts.

With 65 percent of the vote counted, the secretary of state’s office reported the measure was losing 63-37 percent, making it the fourth gambling issue to go down to defeat in Ohio since 1990.

Bob Tennebaum, spokesman for the No On 6 committee, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that voters saw the casino proposal as a bad deal.

“The referendum was full of loopholes, and people understood that,” Tennebaum said.

David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable, told the newspaper it is clear that Ohioans oppose gambling: “It always loses by near the same numbers. Sixty percent of the people in Ohio don’t want casinos.”

— With 83 percent of the vote in, Maine’s voters turned thumbs down on a $184 million casino by 54-46 percent, marking the third defeat for gamblers in five years.

Dennis Bailey, spokesman for CasinosNO, was pleased with the results.

“I really think Maine people made up their mind about casinos five years ago and Las Vegas just didn’t get the memo,” Bailey told the Bangor Daily News.

— Massachusetts no longer will have gambling on greyhound dog racing, thanks to a 56-44 percent vote — with two-thirds of precincts reporting — to ban the sport, starting in 2010.

The issue turned as much on animal rights as gambling, according to Carey Thiel, executive director of Grey2K USA.

“We did it; we did it for the dogs,” Thiel told The Boston Globe. “For 75 years, greyhounds in our state have endured terrible confinement and suffered serious injuries. We’re better than that.”

— Arkansas became the 43rd state to adopt a lottery. With 77 percent of its counties reporting, the secretary of state’s office said a constitutional amendment to establish a lottery was ahead by 63-37 percent.

Four groups had organized to fight the lottery, including the largely Southern Baptist-backed Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council.

Director Larry Page said he was disappointed but not surprised because of recent polls that showed the lottery was likely to pass.

“We had won five statewide initiatives since 1990 but we fell by the wayside like so many states have done,” said Page, who estimated the anti-gambling groups were outspent by nearly 4-1.

Though saying it was difficult to pinpoint what made the difference, Page said as gambling proliferates nationwide, people are becoming desensitized and more accepting of it.

“The thing that worked against us is the proponents made a lot of headway in their argument … by saying, ‘We have people crossing the border to other states around us, buying lottery tickets … let’s keep the money here,'” Page said.

The money generated by the lottery goes to fund scholarships to two- and four-year colleges and universities, but details of the type and scope of games must be worked in the upcoming session of the legislature, according to Page.

Missouri voters repealed several restrictions on gambling there by a 56-44 percent tally, with all precincts reporting to the secretary of state’s office.

Proposition A revised state law by turning back a loss limit of $500 per two-hour period and identification of compulsive gamblers. It also limits the number of casinos to a dozen in operation and raises their tax rate by 1 percent.

Gamblers outspent CasiNO Watch by a whopping $16 million to $30,000, said Evelio Silvera, executive director of the anti-gambling group.

Although in-kind contributions will raise its total to $140,000, that was still no match for the casino interests, Silvera said.

Despite the loss, all major newspapers, both gubernatorial candidates and three teachers union all endorsed the anti-casino position, which made Silvera proud of his group’s effort.

“Unlike our opposition, we didn’t seek to nor could we afford to buy support,” Silvera said. “We earned it the old-fashioned way, telling the truth and standing firm on principle.”

CasiNO Watch has been around for nearly 15 years and will continue its effort to expose two truths about casinos: the industry always breaks its promises and always wants less regulation, Silvera added.

“We’ll continue working and educating folks,” Silvera said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

— Despite the outlawing of slot machines in the late 1960s, Maryland voters approved a ballot measure to reinstate them.

Scott Arceneaux, senior adviser to Marylanders United to Stop Slots, said with 97 percent of the vote in that the proposal was ahead by a 59-41 percent margin. He attributed the defeat to gamblers’ 10-1 spending advantage.

“At the end of the day they were able to do a large amount of television and radio the last three to four weeks,” Arceneaux said. “That, together with the economy, really made a difference.”

Backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, the plan will allow up to 15,000 slot machines at five locations, with funds to be used for education, balancing the budget and helping the state’s horse racing industry.

The Washington Post had editorialized against slots, pointing out the estimate for revenues from the machines already had been lowered from $600 million to $500 million.

Meanwhile, the newspaper cited research that social costs could reach as much as $628 million.

“I think the economy really made a difference in this race,” Arceneaux said. “People were scared … and the other side was able to effectively feed off that. They made this about higher taxes and government services and not about slots, which was what it was really about.”

Meanwhile, Bernal pledged to step up the fight against gambling. He noted the current economic crisis offers his organization a prime opportunity to show people how governments have turned them into habitual bettors, trapping them in debt.

“It’s up to us to go out and raise the money and build this network of activists and take it to them,” Bernal said.

“We have a tendency to play defense on this issue. It’s time we … started to spotlight the deceptions, misleading statements and myths that have been created, that [gambling] has done what people said it was going to do.”
Ken Walker is a freelance writer based in Huntington, W.Va.

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