What makes us gamble? Federal study: Despite casinos' resistance, Congress creates panel on gaming industry.

August 17, 1996

EVEN WITHOUT the broader subpoena powers proponents sought, the new National Gambling Impact and Policy Commission set up by Congress is a positive development. The speed and depth to which casinos, lotteries and other legal gambling have become fixtures in communities that 20 years ago wouldn't have thought twice about condemning such activity needs examination.

Americans' unwillingness to raise taxes to pay for services is only part of the explanation for states' approval of gambling. The commission will be looking at possible connections between casinos and organized crime. It should also look at known connections between the gaming industry and some politicians.

The gambling companies were smart. They set up a lobbying group, the American Gaming Association, and hired former Republican National Committee Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. to head it. Former Reagan aide Kenneth M. Duberstein was also hired to lobby. With those well-connected insiders opposing the bill, it took 15 months just to get congressional approval of the new commission.

Even then, the Senate removed the commission's subpoena power of individuals. It can only subpoena documents. It can ask witnesses to provide additional information to those documents, but a witness can choose to respond in writing. That shouldn't prevent the panel from gathering the facts it needs, though slowly.

The nine-member commission has only two years to do its job. This makes it crucial that those appointed to the panel are dedicated to finding out the truth about gambling in America, good or bad. Of particular importance are the three appointments to be made by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who favored reducing the commission's subpoena powers. The president and Senate majority leader also will name three members each.

That the gambling industry lobbied against this fact-finding commission certainly gives the impression it has something to ,, hide. Twenty years ago, only two states had legal gambling. Now, only two states ban it. It's time to step back and consider where this country is headed with gambling and whether that's really the direction we want to go.

Pub Date: 8/17/96

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