ANY CHANCE FOR an impartial, blue-ribbon study of the impact of gambling on this country vanished when Congress' two top Republicans chose extremists on both ends of the social spectrum for this federal panel. President Clinton compounded the problem this month by naming three more members who are far from impartial. And, finally, the congressional GOP leaders finished the debacle by choosing an ardent social conservative to chair this panel.
Instead of giving Americans a solid, down-the-middle analysis of the implications of casinos, slots parlors, sports betting and lotteries, this panel will be incapable of agreeing on much of anything. Look at the line-up:
The CEO of the nation's biggest casino; the head of Nevada's Gaming Control Board; a union leader of casino workers; a Native American official whose tribe runs bingo games; ex-politicians from New Jersey and California who opposed gambling, and three Christian fundamentalists adamantly against gambling.
They come to this task with strongly held beliefs. They can't afford to change their views, regardless of the information turned up by commission staff over the next two years. They have vested interests in seeing their own positions included in the final report. Every conclusion will be contested in a minority report.
This commission has been star-crossed from the start. Casino lobbyists fought vehemently to kill the notion of a gambling study; Nevada's two senators were especially active. Then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Newt Gingrich delayed making their appointments, and the president waited nine months before he named his three selections.
What an embarrassment. A panel filled with advocates and closed-minded members. The group's hearings ought to be hilarious, as pro- and anti-gambling commissioners take turns disparaging the other's witnesses. Voting sessions should be a stitch.
Those looking for a comprehensive analysis of what gambling has done to American society won't be happy, though. This commission could be a two-year waste of time and millions in taxpayer dollars. The president and congressional leaders bear full responsibility.
Pub Date: 5/27/97