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James to chair gambling panel; industry criticizes selection

WASHINGTON (BP)–An opponent of legalized gambling has been named to chair a new commission established to study its impact in the United States.
The selection of Kay James, dean of the school of government at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, to chair the National Gambling Impact Study Commission elicited criticism from the gambling industry. A Southern Baptist anti-gambling advocate, meanwhile, while calling James an “excellent choice,” said there could be a downside to her selection.
“Her presence as chairperson assures those of us who are opposed to gambling that no official decisions will be made behind the scenes without someone sympathetic to our concerns being present,” said Barrett Duke of the Christian Life Commission. “Through her previous positions of service, Mrs. James has demonstrated that she can weather the many storms that the chairperson of this commission will face.
“My only concern is that as chairperson she will have to maintain an attitude of neutrality at times that may make it difficult for her to voice her own opinions on some issues. Nevertheless, I believe the trade-off is worth it.”
The American Gaming Association, the gambling industry’s lobbying arm, charged gambling opponents would pressure James “to use the commission process as an inquisition against legalized gambling,” according to an Associated Press report in The Washington Post.
“Certainly, it would have been fairer to Kay Coles James and other members of the commission to have selected as chairman someone neutral on gaming, rather than someone who is morally opposed to it,” said AGA Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, according to AP.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R.-Miss., and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R.-Ga., expressed confidence in James’ objectivity after naming her as chairman.
“Kay James has a long and distinguished record in government, the private sector and academia, and I know she will bring a fair-minded perspective to this dialogue,” Gingrich said in a written statement.
Prior to becoming a dean at Regent in 1996, James was secretary of Health and Human Services in Virginia for two years. She previously served as senior vice president at the conservative Family Research Council and in two positions in the Bush White House: associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The gambling industry opposed formation of the commission. After the panel’s establishment by Congress, however, the industry succeeded in having at least three people favorable toward legalized gambling appointed. They are Terrence Lanni, CEO and chairman of the board of MGM Grand Inc., a gambling, entertainment and hotel company based in Las Vegas, Nev.; Bill Bible, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board; and John Wilhelm, 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.
Beside James, the only appointee identified as anti-gambling is James Dobson, president of the conservative Focus on the Family ministry.
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 and friend of Lott from Pascagoula, Miss.;
President Clinton completed the panel by naming Bible, Leone and Loescher in late April. Gingrich and Lott also had three appointments each. According to the law establishing the commission, Clinton, Gingrich and Lott have joint authority to name the chairman. In case of a disagreement, the chairman is to be determined by a majority vote. Only Gingrich and Lott selected James. It was not announced whom the president favored.
Congress formed the panel in order to study the social and economic effects of gambling on government, communities, families, businesses and individuals. The commission is to make its report no more than two years after its first meeting.