Gambling panel splits in calling for 'moratorium' on expansion

WASHINGTON (BP)--A federal commission nearing the end of its two-year study of gambling in America approved April 28 in a divisive vote a recommendation suggesting government at various levels may want to adopt a moratorium on expansion of the practice.

The 5-4 vote on the final day of the two-day meeting demonstrated the division that has existed below the surface on some other issues considered by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. When consensus on language on a possible moratorium could not be reached, the roll-call vote found the four commissioners most closely identified with gambling interests opposing the majority.

Though Kay Coles James, the panel's chair, said no language in the report is final yet, the commission has less than two months to complete its work. Its report, mandated by Congress in legislation approved in 1996, is due June 18.

Richard Leone, president of The Century Foundation and a former New Jersey treasurer, proposed the moratorium language to the other commissioners on the first day of the meeting. After it met with some opposition, Leone offered a new version the second day.

The recommendation, as approved, said "some policymakers at all levels may wish to impose an explicit moratorium on gambling expansion while awaiting further research and assessment." It also said the panel's "call for a pause should be taken as a challenge -- a challenge to intensify the effort to increase our understanding of the costs and the benefits of gambling and deal with them accordingly." It acknowledged such research takes time and state and local versions of the national panel may be appropriate to supervise such study.

In addition to James and Leone, others voting in support of the proposal were James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family; Leo McCarthy, former lieutenant governor of California; and Paul Moore, a radiologist from Pascagoula, Miss.

Opposing the language were William Bible, a member of the Nevada Ethics Commission but chairman of the state's Gaming Control Board when he was appointed to the gambling panel; Terrence Lanni, chief executive officer of MGM Grand Inc., a gambling, entertainment and hotel company based in Las Vegas; Robert Loescher, president of Sealaska Corp. and a member of the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska; and John Wilhelm, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and chief negotiator for its 45,000-member local in Las Vegas the last 10 years.

Lanni said he might write a minority report on the issue.

Before the vote, Loescher said he did not think a sharp split should exist on such a recommendation. Nor should there be a pause in gambling's growth for the "sole purpose of research," he said.

James told commissioners, "We're just saying, 'Take a time-out.'"

After the meeting, James told reporters the panel was "just asking communities to examine the information, examine the data and make an informed decision."

The possibility for consensus on language about a moratorium still exists, she said. "Everything that goes into this document is a draft at this point, and any commissioner at any time can bring an issue up for discussion," said James, whose resignation as dean of Regent University's school of government had been announced only the day before.

The panel is composed not only of gambling proponents but, in Dobson and James, foes as well. Yet, it has indicated an ability to reach widespread agreement on several tentative proposals, including:

-- a minimum age of 21 years for participants in all forms of gambling.

-- a ban on gambling on the Internet.

-- removal of ATM and credit machines from the floors of casinos, although debit machines would still be permitted.

-- posting of warnings of gambling's addictive potential in all casinos and on all game equipment.

-- establishment of separate regulatory agencies for government-sponsored lotteries.

-- funding by lotteries of programs for problem gamblers.

The commission also has expressed widespread disappointment with the lack of cooperation by Indian tribes in its research. Most of the tribes, as well as the National Indian Gaming Commission, have not provided the data requested.

Though the panel has the power to subpoena the Indian gaming agency, commissioners agreed it would be too late for their report to use such a legal recourse. The panelists can use in the report "the strongest possible language to express our displeasure" with the inability to obtain the necessary information, James said.

The commission, which has no authority to enforce its recommendations, will meet again May 17-18 in Washington. It scheduled an additional meeting June 2-3 in San Francisco in order to help it complete its work.

The report will be the first national one on gambling since 1976.

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