Sunday morning in New York's Chinatown, a group of elderly Chinese men gathers at Lucky China Bakery to wait for the buses to Atlantic City. Mostly hardened gamblers, they have seen their money come and go across the gaming tables of Trump Castle, the Hilton, and other casinos. Today, they gather around fearful looking 62-year-old Mr. Eng.
"It makes me sick," a friend tells him. "If you have lost your family money, you shouldn't get on the bus!" But Eng nervously looks at the clock; only 20 minutes until he boards the chartered bus with his dream of recovering his life savings.
Chinatown, in southern Manhattan, has a panoply of gambling options, including a state-run off-track betting parlor, state lotteries, illegal gambling dens, bookies, and innumerable mahjong games. Yet the biggest portion of gambling money flows out of China town into the coffers of Atlantic City casinos.
After the two-hour bus ride, the Chinatown elderly quickly scatter to spend six hours at Trump Plaza Casino, which provides $25 in coins as a reward for those who have paid the $15 bus fare. The seniors enter a self-contained fantasy world of glittering lights, mirrored columns, and crystal chandeliers. The buzzers, bells, flashing lights, and clanging of tokens dropping into slot machine trays can be mesmerizing in an environment with no windows or clocks.
On this Sunday, 47 buses are bound for the New Jersey city that legalized casinos in 1976. About 9 million people a year are brought to Atlantic City by casino buses, and Sunday is their busiest day of the week.
HOW TO HOOK A SENIOR: According to John Eades, 57, author of a new recovery book, Gambling Addiction: The Problem, the Pain, and the Pathway to Recovery (Thistle Press), increased gambling among the elderly comes at a huge cost to themselves, their families, and churches. "As older persons become addicted, they use Sunday as a gambling day, not a church day. Once they're hooked, they're ashamed to come back to church. They need to have a spiritual transformation to change."
Compulsive gambling causes people who have no past criminal behavior to suddenly write bad checks or steal money from relatives. Out-of-control bettors lose their jobs, gamble away cars and homes, file for bankruptcy, divorce, go to prison, or kill themselves—all because the addiction becomes paramount in their lives.
Gambling enterprises make it easy and affordable for elders to bet. Casinos commission tour companies to arrange low-cost trips to gather senior citizens from specified sites and bus them to the site.
"These trips are sponsored by everybody: church groups, banks, senior centers, retirement centers," says Dennis P. McNeilly, a 45-year-old Jesuit priest who is a psychologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Pat Fowler, 52, executive director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling in Orlando, asks, "Who else will pick you up at your home, take you to engage in an exciting activity in a safe environment, give you lunch, call you by your name, and make you feel important? Our society sees seniors primarily as disposable, and this industry has picked up on that."
Ron Pavalko, 64, director of the Center for Gambling Studies at the University of WisconsinParkside, says, "The buses are really mobile senior citizen centers.
"They are extremely social places," Pavalko says. "Riders talk about their grand children, the future of social security, Medicare costs. But they also talk about gambling: who's got the loosest slots, the best buffet, or the friendliest staff."
McNeilly, who researches gambling among older adults, notes that one riverboat casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, gives older adult Slot Club members a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs. "Another local casino recently had former stars of the Lawrence Welk Show for entertainment," McNeilly says. "Who's going to go see Myron Floren except those 65 and older?"
Using data from his research of 81 Omaha-area senior centers and retirement homes, McNeilly discovered that bingo is their top recreational undertaking—followed by trips to casinos.
"When transportation is involved, the most popular social activity is going to casinos," he says. "It beat out going out to lunch and day shopping trips. Transportation is a key factor for this age group."
Casinos have also successfully re moved the stigma that many seniors once associated with gambling by making it a socially acceptable outing. For instance, in Kansas City, Missouri, Station Casino is anchored by a 200-room hotel on one end and an 18-theater cinemaplex on the other. The casino is in the middle of an indoor mall that includes six restaurants and an in- door playground in which to drop off the kids—or grandkids. A 1,381-seat pavilion is the site of boxing matches and concerts.
Station Casino offers a "Golden Opportunities Club" to those 55 and older, featuring discounts on shows and buffets. Different daily benefits include free valet parking on Mondays and free coffee on Wednesdays.
But it has been Harrah's—the biggest chain in the nation with 18 casinos—that has turned marketing to seniors into an art form. Harrah's became an early leader in asking players to provide personal information garnered from driver's licenses in order to receive a free automatic teller-like card used to gamble. The cards are inserted into slot machines to keep track of wins and losses. By accumulating time, players can qualify for cash rebates, a discounted motel room, or a free show. And by tracking the activity, Harrah's knows how best to market its direct-mail promotions to attract the elderly.
Casino and other chains allow the house
to count their losses via a free tellerlike
card in an effort to earn discounts on
meals, shows, and hotel stays.
Richard J. Klemp, 49, director of government affairs for Harrah's corporate office in Memphis, says it is good business sense to offer incentives to senior citizens. Some seniors, due to physical limitations, cannot handle strenuous activity, Klemp told CT. "Casino gambling for some is their activity of choice."
Harrah's casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, with two adjacent riverboats containing 2,176 slot machines and 75 table games, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m. most days. But the morning and early afternoon hours are not the do main of high rollers as much as white-haired ladies, many playing the nickel slots. Keeping the elderly from being lured to other area casinos is imperative. To sweeten the pot, senior citizens at Harrah's receive "preferred boarding" and double gold card points on Mondays and Thursdays. For a generation that lived through the Great Depression, bargains are always appreciated. Industry figures show the largest category of Missouri gamblers, 36 percent, is those ages 5165.
HIGH PRICE OF ADDICTION: The elderly are particularly vulnerable to becoming hooked on gambling, according to research.
McNeilly says his geriatric outpatient clinic in Omaha had no gambling addiction patients during its first decade. How ever, in the past two years—after two casinos and a dog track with a casino opened across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs—the clinic has treated 50 cases.
"This age group has seen gambling change in our society from something considered a sin or a vice to mainstream entertainment and socially acceptable," McNeilly says. "Those who grew up during the Depression have been very frugal; they've saved all their lives, sacrificed, put other people's needs before their own, and now they're at a time when they have more disposable time and income than they ever had. Gambling is an opportunity to take risks that they've never taken."
Around 60 percent of older adults who bet are "casual social gamblers," McNeilly says. These people go to a casino infrequently with a predetermined amount, and once they spend it they quit. Nationally, compulsive gamblers account for 13 percent of those ages 65 and older, McNeilly says, but in areas with casinos that rises to 26 percent.
McNeilly says an increasing number of elderly, especially women, are "relief-escape" gamblers, a stage that has not progressed to addiction but could. "This is a group that essentially uses gambling as a means to relieve boredom, loneliness, isolation, depression," he says.
Several recent studies confirm that more senior citizens are gambling, and losing control. For instance:
»A February University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center (NORC) nationwide study of 2,400 adults com paring data between now and 1974 shows the highest increase among gamblers has been among those 65 and older.
»Research conducted by Linda Bradley of 235 gambling senior citizens from Westerly, Rhode Island, shows that the third and the fourth are the busiest days of the month at casinos, as retirement checks arrive in the mail. More than half who gambled had an annual income of less than $20,000; 31 percent gambled with money from pensions, 20 percent from social security.
»"We found a disproportionate number of gamblers are elderly," says J. Terrence Brunner, 61, executive director of the watchdog Chicago-based Better Government Association. "Of that group, women tend to play the slots and veg-out, sometimes for hours."
»Valerie Lorenz, 62, whose Compulsive Gambling Center in Baltimore is connected with the longest-running residential treatment program for pathological gamblers in the country, says more elderly married couples are becoming addicted. "We're seeing more husbands and wives addicted, first one and then the other, invariably on slots."
»Technological developments could result in more elderly addicts. Since 1995, Internet users have been able to gamble on interactive Web sites. About 140 unregulated sites exist, based primarily in the Caribbean. In a few years, though it faces legislative challenges from the casino industry fearful of losing business, shut-ins could gamble via their television sets.
»Recovering addict Eades says senior centers are unwittingly sending more and more undiagnosed Alzheimer's patients to gamble. "You don't have to function at a high level to play slot machines."
QUICK DOWNFALL? Eades, who is now a certified gambling-addiction treatment psychologist in the geriatric unit of Southern Tennessee Medical Center in Winchester, filed bankruptcy after racking up $245,000 in credit card gambling debts. His weekly wages are garnisheed. "I'll never be able to retire."
Ironically, Eades worked with the chemically addicted for two decades before becoming a compulsive gambler when he went to a casino for the first time with some friends. Many trips to casino ATMs followed that first visit to a slot machine. Roughly half the money wagered in casinos is not carried onto the premises, but rather is extracted electronically once there.
While there are similarities with alcoholism, gambling may be the addiction with the greatest potential for rapid destruction. Unlike alcoholism, the object of obsession is money. In a matter of hours, gamblers can ruin themselves economically. And dissimilar to alcoholism, the problem gambler often resorts to illegal means to satisfy the craving.
Fowler has been tracking senior gambling for seven years since the Florida Council implemented a 24-hour phone help line. She discovered the elderly—who already are the highest-risk age group for suicide—have unique circumstances when it comes to gambling. They are often dealing with major life changes, such as retirement, death of a spouse, or early dementia. "It's the only thing that relieves the pain of whatever loss they're dealing with, be it the identification of job and profession, loss of a spouse, loss of their good health, loss of their beauty," she says.
According to Fowler, even those who have gambled socially for years are more at risk of becoming problem gamblers in retirement because they have more time to gamble (see "Charity Bingo's Road to Ruin," below).
She says seniors are also at high risk because, unlike teenagers, it is assumed that they have the experience to prevent them from losing control. But many of the elderly are gambling for the first time and have no idea how easily it can be come an addiction.
The aged infirm do not have the practical option of filing for bankruptcy. "When they have spent or lost all of their retirement because they've become addicted to gambling or lost control over gambling, they can't go out and start over and rebuild," Fowler says. "Their options are very limited."
One recourse is to move in with an adult child. "For most seniors, that is the greatest fear in life: becoming reliant on kids in old age," Fowler says. Second, they can become a part of the social system that picks up the costs, but few want to do that. "For many, that is not an option because they're people who have been extremely productive and resourceful throughout their lives. They worked very hard."
MORE FUN THAN CHURCH? Many churchgoing retirees find time enough in their schedules for day-tripping to casinos as well as Sunday worship services. Twice a month, widows Gladys Zink, 68, and Faye Norman, 65, drive to Harrah's in North Kansas City, 60 miles west from their homes in Knob Noster, Missouri. "We just come because we don't have anything to do," Zink says. "We're good people. We just do it for fun." The women figure that with their homes paid off and no family in the immediate area, a casino trip makes for an entertaining outing.
"It's not habit forming," Norman says. "We set a limit when we come, and then we quit and go home." The women, who both attend the Christian Church in Knob Noster every week, also go to gamble in Las Vegas once a year.
Harrah's employees are as friendly as any church greeter. Free popcorn is dispensed in the lobby. Free soft drinks are available on the riverboats.
Terry Knapp, 61, a retired truck driver, usually gambles twice a month, with a limit of $20. He comes to Kansas City from Atchison, Kansas, 60 miles west, with his wife and a married couple. Part of the draw for him is the all-you-can-eat $1.99 breakfast buffet. Knapp says he began coming to Harrah's because the employees are much friendlier than the patronizing attitude he encountered at the now-defunct Sam's Town nearby. "If you're going to waste your money, you might as well waste it at a place where they like you," he says.
Irma Murray, 65, a retired Veterans Administration hospital supervisor from Kansas City, knows senior citizens keep casinos running in the daytime. "If we didn't show up they'd just close the door," she says.
Murray used to gamble every day. But no more. She is at Harrah's to pick up a tax statement of losses for 1998, a year in which $5,000 of her money vanished in slots. Murray, a widow, writes checks when she runs out of cash. She uses money from her civil service retirement after tithing to Metropolitan Baptist Church, where she attends Sunday school and church every week.
Lorenz, executive director of the Compulsive Gambling Center in Baltimore, says most seniors prefer slot ma chines, where they can play for lengthy periods without competing against another person. The gaming tables are too intimidating for most novice senior citizen players, especially women, who do not want to be embarrassed trying to learn blackjack or craps, Lorenz says.
To accommodate the rising number of seniors, most slot machines no longer have handles, but merely a button to touch. Customers can feed tokens into machines for hours without tiring.
casinos are populated by the elderly.
One of the reasons why more elderly are hooked by gambling is because of its explosive growth. Americans can make a legal wager of some sort in every state except Utah, Hawaii, and Tennessee.
In 42 states, parimutuel betting, including horse and dog races, is legal, although that has been in decline for 15 years as other less skill-oriented forms of risk-taking grew more popular. Lotteries are conducted by 37 states, but new games must constantly be introduced—or existing games repackaged—to keep sales from falling.
The vast acceleration lately has been due to casinos, with 600 operating in 26 states, from economically depressed river towns to isolated Native American reservations.
According to International Gaming and Wagering Business, Americans lost $50.9 billion in legal games in 1997, $27.2 billion of that in casinos and $16.6 billion in lotteries.
Charity Bingo's Road to Ruin
As casinos have spread nationwide, charitable bingo has faced these new competitors with high-stake games in order to keep its customers coming back. "Now if they step through the doors into high-stakes commercial bingo, it's an entirely different game," says elderly gambling expert Pat Fowler.
Charitable gambling is legal in 44 states and Americans lost $1.6 billion in such games in 1997.
"In any huge bingo parlor—those with 500 customers— 99 percent are 60 years and older," says compulsive gambling authority Valerie Lorenz. Bingo parlors are trying to compete with the constant "action" of casinos by offering exotic scratch cards and multiple "books."
Midge Baka, 67, of Schiller Park, Illinois, played bingo at her Roman Catholic church west of Chicago for two decades without a problem. But when the church began offering "pull tabs" with the potential to win $500 instantly, she found herself buying 15 bingo cards to play simultaneously—and slowly slipping out of control.
She began stealing her husband's credit cards and lying about her whereabouts, saying she had been shopping or meeting friends when she really was playing bingo every night—at churches, Native American reservations, Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, and bingo parlors. Sometimes, she would spend up to $1,000 a week on bingo and $80 a week on lottery and scratch tickets. Now, Baka has been "clean" for three years, and she reconciled with her husband before he died.
"My life was unmanageable," Baka says. "I realized I was a very sick person when my daughter threatened to never let me see the grandchildren again."
Baka, who is retired, has replaced her gambling outings with camping, movies, dinners with nongambling friends, and, at least four times a week, gambling addicts recovery meetings. Mean while inside her church, bingo still draws a big crowd of elderly gamblers.
TOO ASHAMED TO SEEK HELP: In March, NORC reported that 5.5 million Americans are pathological or problem gamblers and another 15 million are at risk.
But Harrah's Klemp maintains that only 0.3 percent of Americans 65 and older have a gambling disorder. Klemp points out that Harrah's developed a "Bet Smart" program that has been universally adopted in the industry to offer free counseling to addicts through a toll-free help line, which receives only about 900 calls a year. "There are not as many compulsive gamblers as some people like to say," Klemp states. "It's certainly less than 1 percent. It's infinitesimal."
Yet, the Florida Council's Fowler says a lack of calls does not translate into a lack of difficulties. "Once their problems have become too overwhelming, they often are too ashamed to seek help."
Another measure of the size of compulsive gambling among the elderly comes from Gamblers Anonymous (GA) meetings. GA, founded in 1957, is a 12-step self-help, confidential recovery program with nearly 1,350 chapters across the country. It is not explicitly Christian in its approach nor is it solely for the elderly.
Jake P., 69, of Bloomingdale, Illinois, has been attending GA meetings since he quit gambling in 1967, soon after his wife, Mary, tried to kill herself and their three young children by leaving the gas stove on while they took naps. A neighbor smelled the gas and intervened. Mary had become depressed because of mounting debts and a husband obsessed with betting.
Some problem gamblers attend meetings for a few months and figure they have it licked, only to relapse. Jake, who became a Christian soon after he stopped betting, attends GA meetings in three Chicago suburbs each week, even though he has been "clean" for 32 years. "This compulsion took my very soul and made me a slave," he says. "These meetings saved my life."
Jake is seen as a spiritual mentor by many younger GA attendees. In addition to staying accountable, Jake believes it is important to go to encourage those whose last bet may have happened last week instead of in the last generation.
About 20 attended a recent GA Saturday-night meeting at Elmhurst Hospital. They are young and old, men and women, executives and blue collar workers, Christians and atheists. One broke elderly participant confesses that he purposely drove away from a convenience store without paying for gas in order to get to the meeting.
The first 20 minutes of every meeting are spent taking turns reading a 17-page GA booklet that tells the signs of compulsive gambling and steps to recovery. Then attendees, identifying themselves by given names and first initial of their surnames, recite a "therapy," which usually is a testimony recalling how they faltered or how they overcame temptation. Jake sometimes recounts the repeated times he gambled away his annual salary in one night, or how his wife kicked him out of the house seven times. Other members then have an opportunity to respond, and they often do so with profound or poignant advice. Newcomers are assigned a "sponsor," and members are encouraged to phone each other throughout the week to stay accountable.
Around two dozen visited a recent Tuesday midday meeting at a Catholic church in Schaumburg. A woman in her forties tells how she stole her husband's disability checks and secretly misappropriated her daughter's credit cards. But a man in his twenties complains that the therapies being recited are too depressing. A couple of other members quickly respond that such stories must be told over and over, lest people forget how painful it used to be.
But both McNeilly and Fowler say seniors may be better off seeking one-on-one counseling. "This is an age group that is not likely to air their dirty laundry publicly in a support group," McNeilly says.
No federal funds are allocated to treat compulsive gamblers. While there are 13,000 programs available to substance abusers, there are fewer than 100 for habitual gamblers. And many managed-care plans do not authorize treatment for gambling, Lorenz says.
CHURCH BLIND SPOT? "Gambling is so much a part of the social landscape that we don't see it anymore," writes Rex M. Rogers in Seducing America: Is Gambling a Good Bet? (Baker, 1997). "Most Christian groups and churches don't pay much attention to it." Rogers, 46, president of Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids (Mich.) Baptist Seminary, says Christians have been oddly silent as gambling has mushroomed.
Harrah's Klemp does not see a problem. "Casino customers and employees attend church in the same proportions as people who attend symphony concerts, professional baseball games, or any other mainstream activity," he says.
Ben Skinner, 33, assistant pastor of First Regular Baptist Church in Kansas City, says, "There are real problems in the church, even among the clergy. Many churches have banquets at casinos." Skinner notes that two inner-city ministers lost their ministries—one who absconded with $50,000 and the other who pawned his congregation's sound system—because of gambling.
"I know several elderly guys who are on a fixed income and see the casinos as a source for quick cash," Skinner says. "Every month without fail they take their Social Security checks and go to the riverboats."
Gambling may contribute to other social ills. In an International Union of Gospel Missions (IUGM) study conducted last year among 1,100 clients at rescue missions, 18 percent cited gambling as a cause of their homelessness.
"Churches don't consider gambling a primary issue," says Stephen E. Burger, 58, executive director of IUGM, which has its national headquarters in North Kansas City in the middle of riverboat casino row. "There's no sense that it has an impact on the rest of us."
Some Christian leaders believe the church is partly to blame for the mainstreaming of gambling. "The one pillar of society that used to constantly preach against gambling is now running bingo and casino nights," says Ronald A. Reno, 34, senior research analyst with Focus on the Family. "It's hard for them to have any kind of moral ground underfoot on which to protest when a casino comes into their town."
Indeed, Klemp says a lot of church groups gamble, including National Baptists who held their annual convention in Kansas City last year. "Many ministers came; they are very enlightened about gambling," Klemp says. "About the only church vocally opposed in Missouri is the [United] Methodists."
The United Methodist Church (UMC) opposition came largely as a result of the efforts of former UMC pastor Tom Grey, 58, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG). The group waged a successful campaign to stop riverboat casinos in Missouri in April 1994. But a well-financed referendum reversed the vote that November.
Few parachurch groups or denominations have given much thought to gambling beyond passing statements denouncing it. The National Association of Evangelicals in 1966 called gambling "a parasite feeding on both the individual and society." In 1985, the NAE added that gambling "is socially, morally, and economically destructive" and "a social evil."
The Assemblies of God, based in Springfield, Missouri, adopted a position paper in 1983 on why gambling is wrong, but no national funds are used to fight gambling and the matter is left to local congregations.
The Church of the Nazarene, with headquarters in Kansas City, has a two-sentence statement that gambling should be avoided. For many groups, the issue has been all but forgotten. The National Council of Churches last adopted a policy statement on gambling in 1951.
For those on the frontlines, it can be lonely. "There is no recognition that this is an important issue beyond their resolutions," Grey says. "It's entirely something else to engage in battle." And he believes the gambling industry pays no attention to church resolutions.
"I have found no willingness on the part of organized religion to really look at this," says Fowler. During the past two years, 44 percent of calls to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling help line have come from Protestants and 27 percent from Catholics. She says she has repeatedly—and unsuccessfully—sought to partner with congregations and parachurch groups to spread the word on the potential dangers of elderly gambling. Fowler says, "Typically we get a form letter that says, We appreciate the information and the work that you do. Thank you and goodbye."
LOSING THE WAR? Throughout the 1990s, gambling has been legalized in state after state as lawmakers sought ways to raise revenues without raising taxes in spite of low unemployment and a booming national economy.
Along the way, governments in states such as Mississippi switched from being watchdog to promoter (CT, May 18, 1998, p. 34). In November, gambling forces mustered enough strength to oust two incumbent governors who took antigambling stands, Republicans Fob James of Alabama and David Beasley of South Car o lina, a state with nearly 30,000 video poker machines in convenience stores, bowling alleys, and even beauty salons.
Now some state governments, including Missouri—which receives $175 million a year in taxes based on $1 collected for every admission—appear to be addicted to gambling revenues. In 1997, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that slot machines in 11 riverboat casinos violated state law because they actually sat in artificial basins rather than on a main channel of the Missouri or Mississippi rivers. The state legislature passed an "emergency" bill to expand the definition of a river to include up to 1,000 feet from the actual shoreline. Gambling interests spent $10 million in a successful advertising campaign to keep the boats in moats legal in a referendum last November.
States are in a never-ending game to loosen restrictions in order to keep their customers from crossing boundary lines for richer stakes. For example, Iowa, the first state to legalize riverboat casinos in 1991, initially limited losses to $200 a day. Illinois, across the Mississippi River, allowed gambling six months later with no ceiling on bets. Iowa then quickly scrubbed the notion of a loss limit.
As gambling has prevailed, Grey has become increasingly pessimistic. "We fought a good battle, but we're going to be overrun," he says. "I've been in this for eight years, and now we're down to the nitty gritty."
Grey, an army captain infantry commander during the Vietnam War, is continuing his fight against legalized gambling with volunteer recruits, including stay-at-home moms, dentists, pastors, and small-business owners.
Of the organization's $130,000 annual budget, $15,000 comes from the Latter-day Saints, while different state conferences of the Southern Baptist Convention contribute another $15,000. Grey's own denomination, the UMC, which had supplied $35,000 a year, no longer does so, although officials say they are working on restoring the funds.
A PURPOSE OTHER THAN MONEY: Of the few Christian ministries involved with resisting gambling, most focus on picking up the people ruined by gambling and are not on the frontlines crusading for gambling to be outlawed.
"It doesn't work to say the lottery and gambling are sinful," says Lorraine Minor, 55, director of family ministries at City Union Mission, the largest in Kansas City. "We need to teach people to find a purpose other than money being their god."
Those who are actively engaged in helping gambling addicts usually are those who have been there. In addition to attending GA meetings, Jake P. leads a biweekly Christian-based recovery program at his nondenominational church in Lombard, Illinois. Jake tailors the 12-step program to spiritual healing, restoration, and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
For many of the elderly in Man hat tan's Chinatown, gambling has been a way of life for generations. "My father always gambled in Hong Kong, and we had to sell our shoe shop be cause of it," recalls pastor John Lo. After sixth grade, Lo had to go to work as a shoemaker to help support the family.
Despite his father's losses, Lo began gambling at just about every game available at age 13. "I often didn't go to school but went gambling with my friends."
But Lo became a Christian, dedicated himself to helping Chinatown's poor, and went on to found the influential Chinese Christian Herald Crusade, which runs a holistic ministry that includes a senior center.
As another bus en route to Atlantic City passes, Lo observes, "Gambling addiction can be overcome. God can change anyone."
With reporting by Tony Carnes in Atlantic City.
Is Gambling an Issue in Presidential Politics?
"If prominent business people, prominent church leaders, and prominent politicians do not get into this fight right now there will not be options in the year 2000," warns gambling foe Tom Grey.
"If gambling is accepted by the leadership elite of this country they will be in control" Grey says. "States will be addicted to it, governments will depend upon it; they will elect officials to protect it."
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), 60, who sponsored the legislation that created the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (CT, Jan. 6, 1997, p. 58), agrees that this is a crucial time, especially for the GOP. "The Republican party is really the pro-family party and it's inconsistent to be taking money from gambling interests," Wolf says. "If it's not a campaign issue, gambling will continue to grow."
The list of Republicans and Democrats receiving contributions from gambling interests is expanding. According to the Center for Responsible Politics, in the past two years, 23 casino corporations contributed $961,000 to federal candidates, 55 percent belonging to the GOP. Harrah's was the largest donor, giving $336,150 to 124 candidates, 63 percent of them Republicans.
According to Common Cause, the two major political parties received $4,948,243 in "soft money" from the gambling industry in 1997-98, with 64 percent of that going to the GOP. That represented a rise from $1,968,600 evenly distributed between Democrats and Republicans in 1993-94.
"We need some Jeremiahs to speak out on this issue," Wolf says. "Once it comes, it's very tough to eradicate."
If there is an outcry, it may come after the National Gambling Impact Study Commission releases its two-year findings on June 18.
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