Gambling's Political Campaign

Watch out Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol. Here comes Big Gambling.

That's the message from figures charting a sharp rise in campaign contributions from US gaming interests.

Gamblings's direct contributions to candidates tripled between 1992 and 1998 to almost $2 million. In Federal Election Commission jargon, that's "hard money."

But the real surge was in "soft money" going into party coffers, free of contribution caps. This allows gambling interests to stack up influence "chips" for later redemption. Such money rose sevenfold, reaching $3.8 million last year.

Two-thirds of this year's money has gone to the Democrats, possibly because the industry realizes the religious-right segment of the Republican Party is staunchly against gambling. But top leaders in both parties have been courted by casino owners, unions representing casino employees, and gaming-equipment manufacturers.

With 21 states allowing casinos, some 260 casinos on Indian reservations, and legalized wagering of some kind in all but three states, gross revenues from gambling are well over $50 billion a year. The industry has a lot of interests to protect, as well as new gambling concessions to win. It would like to forestall even the rather weak federal regulations recommended in the recent report of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.

One of those recommendations was for states to tightly restrict local and state campaign contributions by any "entities" that have been permitted to run games of chance. Subtext: the possibilities of abuse and corruption are great.

The same point can be extended to Washington. Some in Congress, led by Rep. Frank Wolf (R) of Virginia, would like to ban soft-money contributions from gambling interests. The best way to do that would be pass pending campaign finance reform legislation that would close the soft-money loophole for all.

The rise of Big Gambling sends Americans a dual warning: Beware the shift of time and treasure toward an industry that's morally corrosive, and fix the political system that allows that industry to freely purchase influence in the halls of government.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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