Some gambling watchdog groups say the appointment of a casino executive to a federal gambling panel and footdragging on additional appointments signal that the new commission may not be impartial.

The nine-member National Gambling Impact Study Commission was to have been in place by October 2, two months after President Clinton signed a bill authorizing it to meet for two years before submitting a report to Congress. The legislation empowers the panel to examine the impact of gambling on crime, the economy, and families. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. Paul Simon (D.-Ill.) cosponsored the bill.

But by the October deadline, only two members had been named (by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott), including Focus on the Family President James C. Dobson.

On October 28, House Speaker Newt Gingrich named Regent University School of Government Dean Kay Cole James to the panel. But he also tapped Terrence Lanni, chief executive officer of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

The appointment sparked outrage among conservative Christians, including Southern Baptist Convention Christian Life government-relations director Will Dodson.

"It is a mistake of colossal proportions to name someone who receives his livelihood from gambling to a commission to study the impact of gambling upon society," Dodson said.

Meanwhile, by early December, President Clinton had not named his three nominees. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt had not made his one selection. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle selected former California Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy on November 25.

Gambling industry lobbyists are increasing their influence in Washington. Through October 1 Federal Election Commission filings, casinos had contributed $2.6 million to the coffers of the Republican and Democratic parties and congressional and presidential candidates. Republicans received 53 percent of the contributions.

Simon and Wolf fear that the delayed appointments are an indication that gambling interests are trying to stack the deck. "The gaming industry opposed any government study but is now resigned to shaping the commission the best it can," Wolf says.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.