Gambling Industry a Big Winner in U.S

By Price, Joyce Howard | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Gambling Industry a Big Winner in U.S


Price, Joyce Howard, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The nation's booming gambling industry has emerged as an influential and divisive force in American politics, even as the debate sharpens over legalized gambling's effect on American social life.

Just a decade ago, only two states allowed some form of legalized gambling. Today, only three states prohibit it. Two GOP governors - David Beasley in South Carolina and Fob James Jr. in Alabama - lost their jobs in November in the Deep South in part because of their perceived opposition to lotteries and other forms of wagering.

Whether gambling is a legitimate business that should be encouraged or an insidious cancer that must be controlled is a question that has provoked internal splits among both Republicans and Democrats, just as a national panel prepares a much-anticipated report on the social and economic impact of gambling.

"The epidemic that is sweeping the nation reflects the enormous power and influence that is currently held by the gambling kingpins," argues social conservative James C. Dobson, head of the Colorado-based Focus on the Family ministry.

"Because of their unlimited financial resources . . . they can influence elections dramatically and entice political leaders to do their bidding," he said.

One measure of gambling's popular clout: the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey estimates the betting on last month's Denver-Atlanta Super Bowl may have reached $4 billion, not counting side bets and office pools.

Mr. Dobson, who called the gambling lobby "the most powerful force in government today," is on the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, the panel appointed by the President Clinton and GOP congressional leaders to investigate the impact of legalized gambling on the economy, on families, and on compulsive gamblers.

The panel, created in 1996 to investigate everything from casinos to lotteries, from dog and horse racing to video poker, and from unregulated Indian and Internet gambling to sports betting, is scheduled to release its findings on June 18. The release date has only intensified the political jockeying over gambling's impact.

Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., the former Republican Party chairman who now is the industry's top lobbyist, figures to be at the center of the debate.

Gambling is "not a partisan issue. . . . It's not Republican or Democrat, not even liberal or conservative," he says.

Now the president and chief executive officer of the American Gaming Association, Mr. Fahrenkopf dismissed Mr. Dobson's assessment of gambling's clout as "so much hooey" and said opponents' assertions that gambling is immoral is off the mark.

"I'm a Knight of Malta in the Catholic Church, and I don't need Jim Dobson to tell me what's moral," Mr. Fahrenkopf said, decked out in his trademark red tie and red suspenders. "And we're not going to apologize for trying to influence political elections."

The industry's pitch: Legalized gambling today is a clean, closely regulated industry that has created more than 1 million jobs, bringing new vitality to rundown rural areas, Indian reservations, and depressed Midwestern towns. And the nearly $3 billion the industry pays each year in federal, state, and local taxes translates directly into better social services and better schools across the country.

Steve Heneghan, spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, said that has been the case in Atlantic City. "The casinos now employ just under 50,000 people, and there aren't 50,000 residents in Atlantic City . . . Casinos make up 80 percent of Atlantic City's tax base."

When casino gambling was introduced in New Jersey in 1976, he notes, the assessable value of all the land in Atlantic City was $320 million; today, he says, it is more than $6 billion.

But critics hope the commission report will spur Congress to impose new curbs on gambling, such as legislation that would end a federal policy that lets gamblers offset any winnings with losses for tax purposes. …

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