For the last two years, Nevada casino executives have been carefully monitoring the actions of a nine-member federal gambling commission. The congressionally-created panel had the potential to reap havoc on the gaming industry and dramatically change the rules of the game. Of particular concern to the gaming industry are two conservatives on the panel; Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and Chairwoman Kay James, an activist from Virginia closely allied with televangelist Pat Robertson.
But the Nevada gaming industry breathed a big sigh of relief last month when The National Gambling Impact Study Commission finalized its report 15 days before it was due to Congress. The panel recommended no major restrictions or regulations on the operations of commercial casinos. Instead, it focused on tighter regulations for Indian gaming, horse and dog racing, lotteries and a ban on Internet gaming. In all, the 300-page report contains more than 70 recommendations, including calls to increase to 21 the minimum betting age and more help for addicted gamblers.
One of the most significant changes recommended by the non-binding report was that state and local governments ban contributions to political campaigns by gaming organizations. The suggested ban comes at a time when Nevada has finally learned how to play the political contribution game. According to The Center for Responsible Politics, the industry contributed more than $6.2 million to federal candidates and parties during the 1997-98 elections, twice the amount donated in the previous midterm election.
The gaming industry has learned that when it comes to the political process, money talks and timing is everything. It was no accident that casino companies and unions gave more than $800,000 to the Republican and Democratic parties back in 1996 when Congress was debating the power and appointing members of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.
The result; the commissions power was diluted, and three of the nine members appointed were vocal supporters of the industry — a union head, casino chairman and former Nevada regulator. As it turned out, by stacking the odds in favor of gaming, proponents effectively diluted the threat posed by conservatives Dobson and James.
With the presentation of the final report late last month, gaming opponents and proponents have shifted their attention from the panel to the House of Representatives and the Senate. Now the question is, how serious will the report taken by our lawmakers. It’s ironic that while the federal panel was wrapping up the study, which included a ban on political contributions, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt flew to Las Vegas to pick up a $250,000 check from the chairman of Mirage casinos.
As the players begin round two, you can bet the political money will continue to flow. And, unless conservatives such as Dobson, are able to raise their voice louder than the gaming influences, Nevada may just win round two. However, unless legitimate gaming concerns brought to light by conservatives of the panel are addressed, the victory will be empty and everyone will lose.
NATIONAL GAMBLING IMPACT STUDY COMMISSION KEY RECOMMENDATIONS
• Limit on lottery advertising
• State and local government ban on political contributions by gaming companies
• State governments and tribal interest consider pause in the spread of legalized gambling
to further understand its impact
• Ban of ATMs from casinos
• Enact legislation to forbid internet gambling
• Strengthen federal laws related to tribal gaming
• More help for gambling addicts