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Gambling panel OKs campaign ban, unanimously approves final report

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–A federal commission recommended a ban on state and local political campaign contributions from gambling operators in its final meeting in preparing to issue a report on its two-year study of the impact of gambling in the United States.
While the votes on the campaign finance reform recommendation and others were divided, the nine-member commission gave unanimous approval to the final report, which will be released June 18 in Washington. The commission’s June 2-3 meeting in San Francisco brought agreement most people thought highly unlikely to a report from a panel made up both of gambling opponents and gambling industry members.
Ron Reno, an assistant to commission member and Focus on the Family President James Dobson, said the report is the “bare minimum of what’s wrong” with gambling but it is still a “very strong report.”
The panel could have divided into two camps, with gambling opponents and proponents issuing differing reports, Reno said. While one of those reports would have been more critical of gambling, a unanimous report from a wide range of members may make it stronger in some ways, he said. Admittedly, the report does not say everything Dobson or any other panelist would have liked, said Reno, a senior research analyst for Focus.
The report is “going to serve as a wake-up call to the American people and policy makers about the harm gambling is doing,” Reno told Baptist Press. “The industry will criticize this report, but they will have no leg to stand on.”
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission has no authority to enforce its recommendations. Instead it is dependent on Congress, the president, the states and Indian tribes to bring life to the proposals. In many of the panel’s more than 70 recommendations, state legislatures are called upon to act.
The ban on campaign contributions at the state and local level was the major recommendation approved in the panel’s final meeting. Among recommendations previously endorsed:
— Public-policy makers may want to impose a moratorium on gambling expansion while awaiting more research.
— Betting on collegiate and other amateur athletic events, even in states where sports wagering is now legal, should be prohibited.
— Legalized gambling, as well as loitering in gambling areas, should be banned for those under 21 years of age.
— Internet gambling should be outlawed.
— Gambling impact statements, similar to environmental impact statements now required of businesses, should be required to predict the economic and social impacts when gambling is being introduced or significantly expanded.
— Convenience gambling, such as video poker in neighborhood stores, should be outlawed in states where it exists, and states without convenience gambling should refuse to introduce it.
— State-sponsored lotteries should be blocked from adding casino-style instant games.
— Pari-mutuel gambling facilities, including racetracks, should be prevented from adding casino-style games primarily to salvage their business.
— Automated-teller machines and devices activated by credit or debit cards should be banned from casino floors and other areas where gambling occurs.
— “Cruises to nowhere,” which exist for the purpose of gambling off the coast of the United States, should be prohibited unless the state from which they originate legalizes such cruises.
— Warnings of the risks of gambling and, where feasible, the odds of winning should be prominently posted in all gambling facilities.
— Aggressive advertising of government-approved gambling should be banned, especially that targeting youth and low-income neighborhoods.
In its campaign contribution recommendation, the commission acknowledged the difficulty of political campaign reform but said “there are sound reasons to recommend that the states adopt tight restrictions on contributions to state and local campaigns by entities, corporate, private or tribal, that have applied for or have been granted the privilege of operating gambling facilities.”
Three panel members voted against the proposal, but, surprisingly, casino executive Terrence Lanni endorsed it. Lanni, chief executive officer of MGM Grand Inc., said, according to The New York Times, “This won’t sit well with people in my industry. But I think it’s important that we maintain the appearance as well as the substance of integrity.”
Commission members and observers sought to assess the report’s impact.
Panel member Richard Leone, who proposed the campaign finance ban, said of the final report, “In the real world, two or three recommendations and a couple of observations will get through and in the end be viewed as what this commission contributed,” according to The Times. Leone is president of The Century Foundation and a former New Jersey treasurer.
Dobson told The Times his organization “will work at getting the word out. I really don’t think this report is going to gather dust.”
Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, told The Times the report “gives us fuel to attack.” The panel has made the industry realize it has a problem with compulsive gambling, he said. “Now gambling will be in the public consciousness along with alcohol, tobacco and drugs,” Grey told The Times. He acknowledged, however, the panel had not recommended anything that would dent the earnings of large casinos, The Times reported.
Others gave a more critical view of the commission’s work after its June 2-3 meeting.
Arnie Wexler, a counselor on compulsive gambling, told The Times, “They’re coming out with lightweight recommendations, no question.”
The report, which was called for in legislation adopted by Congress in 1996, will be the first national one on gambling since 1976.

Compiled by Tom Strode.