Gambling interests are working to increase their clout in this year's presidential campaign. They're giving both Democrats and Republicans unprecedented amounts of money as a part of their continuing effort to rehabilitate their image and become an upstanding, American industry.
A study released Wednesday found operators of casinos and racetracks and manufacturers of gambling equipment have already given eight times as much to the presidential contenders as they did during the entire 1992 election.
"Gambling is out of control as an interest group, it's the hottest most prolific group in America when it comes to increasing its political clout," says Charlie Lewis executive director of The Center for Public Integrity in Washington, which conducted the study.
Representatives from the American Gaming Association (AGA), the casino industry's lobbying arm, contend they are simply playing by the rules, just like other American industries with concerns before Congress. "We're clearly more active than we were in the past," says Frank Fahrenkopf, AGA president, noting contributions aren't out of line with other major industries.
Gambling opponents don't argue that point, but they contend the casino owners are spending more now than in the past to buy influence to protect their growing interests.
The Clinton campaign immediately shot back that contributions don't necessarily buy influence. "The best example is the president's support for a commission to study the growth of gambling," says Joe Lockhart, press secretary for the Clinton-Gore Campaign. "He supports giving the commission subpoena power, which the industry opposes. On the other hand we haven't heard a word from Dole on the issue."
The Dole campaign said gambling contributions to its campaign represented opposition to a Clinton administration proposal to impose a 4 percent tax on gambling profits.
"One should conclude that those contributions are an out-and-out expression of Nevadans' opposition to increased federal taxes on the gambling industry as proposed by the Clinton administration," says Christina Martin, deputy press secretary for the Dole campaign.
In the past 10 years, legalized gambling has spread to all but two states and has sparked a grass-roots backlash. "Just because it's legal, doesn't mean it's good," says Bernard Horn of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "They're trying to buy political influence, which may be an American tradition, but it's something that we should discourage."