Commission Slings Mud, folds Tent

#51 Casino Executive ©Copyright 1999, all rights reserved worldwide. Gambling and the Law® is a registered trademark of Professor I. Nelson Rose, Whittier Law School, Costa Mesa, CA.

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission ended as it began: true believers and know-nothings debating among themselves without having the facts to support their positions.

The Commission completed its journey into the land of make-believe: It voted to recommend that the tide should not come in tomorrow.

Technically, the vote was for a moratorium… excuse me, a “pause.”

Considering the size of the tidal wave of legal gambling sweeping the nation, the Commission might as well have asked the oceans to keep still.

As merely one example: Two of the most successful state lotteries in the country are in Georgia and Florida. They would undoubtedly think a moratorium is a fine idea; especially for their neighbors, South Carolina and Alabama, which do not have lotteries. One of Georgia’s largest lottery retailers is right on the South Carolina border.

But states selling lottery tickets do not have the power to keep their non-lottery neighbors as feeder markets. States decide their gambling policies for themselves. And South Carolina and Alabama have already decided.

In 1998 the only two incumbent governors who were not re-elected were the two who opposed setting up state lotteries for education: David Beasley of South Carolina and Fob James Jr. of Alabama.

The Commission made other embarrassing recommendations in its June 18, 1999 Final Report. A competent graduate student could have done a better job working alone in a library for six months.

The Commission started as a political ploy during the 1994 election by opponents of legal gambling. Filled with religious zeal, the “anti’s” wanted America to wake up to the danger they saw in commercial casinos. They originally proposed a budget of only $250,000 — just enough to hold a few televised hearings.

But gambling had become so widespread that a majority of Congress thought it was time for an objective study. Unfortunately, they failed to give the Commission sufficient time or money. Worse, President Clinton, Senate President Lott and House Speaker Gingrich made the worst possible choices for the Commission.

The problem was not entirely the fault of the nine Commissioners. As individuals, most are intelligent, hard-working and sincere. But, they were chosen primarily for their political beliefs, not for any expertise in gaming.

The Commissioners fell neatly into three groups:

1) Radical opponents of all gambling. Dr. James Dobson, president of the conservative Christian “Focus on the Family7,” was the epitome. Commission chair Kay Coles James, dean of televangelist Pat Robertson’s School of Government, joined a speaking tour for Dobson’s crusade, only eight days after the Final Report was turned in.

2) Supporters of Nevada casinos. These included J. Terrence Lanni, head of the Las Vegas MGM Grand; Bill Bible, former Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board; and John Wilhelm, President of a union which includes the Culinary Union, with 40,000 workers in Las Vegas hotel-casinos.

3) Individuals with no background, knowledge or training in anything remotely related to gambling. For example, Dr. Paul Moore, radiologist and church elder, was appointed solely because he was a big contributor and lived next door to the Senator who appointed him.

The danger of appointing ideologues instead of researchers can be seen in the public statements of Dr. James Dobson.

His January 1999 newsletter began: “Dear Friends, Did you know that Americans gamble more money each year than they spend on groceries?”

After studying legal gaming for a year and a half, Dobson still did not understand the difference between gambling and spending. You do not have to know the definitions of “handle” and “win” to grasp the concept: If a player bets $25 and wins and then bets $25 and loses, he has gambled $50; but, he has spent nothing.

The “anti’s” were so sure that the Commission would find casinos devastate a local economy, that they did not know what to do when the objective studies they commissioned showed casinos have a small, but positive, impact.

They turned to state lotteries, which have no friends on this Commission. Lacking any hard data, the Commissioners fell back on commonly held beliefs, to condemn lotteries for false advertising and targeting the poor. With no time, or inclination, to conduct scientific studies, the Commission quoted newspaper stories as proof.

The Commission’s staff report said, “The most frequently cited, and most egregious, example… was a billboard in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods that touted the lottery as: ‘How to go from Washington Boulevard to Easy Street – Play the Illinois State Lottery.'”

The Washington Boulevard sign came to the attention of the press because a nearby church felt the lottery was eating into its bingo profits. But, there were hundreds of billboards, each one customized to reflect the names of the main traffic arteries where they were posted. The Commission ignored the other billboards, and the fact that Washington Boulevard was the main traffic artery between the Loop and Chicago Stadium.

As for lotteries misleading players about the odds: Some people are naive enough to spend their life savings on magazine subscriptions, because Ed McMahon has said they are winners.

When was the last time you heard of anyone buying state lottery tickets because they were told they would win?

[Professor Rose can be reached at his new web site: www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com]

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