Well, it's over at last! After two years of intense work and travel,
the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) is history. On June
18th, the final report was completed and sent to the Congress, the President,
the Native American tribal leaders, and the Governors of all the states.
This was the seventh federal commission or panel on which I have served
since 1983 (and, according to Shirley, it will be my last!). The others
involved juvenile justice, teen pregnancy, abused and exploited children,
pornography, tax fairness for families, and two years ago, child and family
welfare. Of these, the gambling study has been one of the most difficult,
but I believe it was worth the effort.
The Commission was comprised of nine members, five appointed by Democrats
and four by Republicans. It was created in response to the epidemic of
gambling activity that has now penetrated every corner of American culture.
Until a decade ago, there were only two states that permitted the operation
of casinos. Now, more than half the states have casinos and 48 states allow
some form of legalized gambling.(1) Americans gamble more money each year
than they spend on groceries,(2) and the number of adults and adolescents
who suffer from problem or pathological gambling is rising.(3) It was this
concern, and the fact that gambling has spread exponentially in the past
10 years, that led the Congress to authorize an independent body to take
a closer look at the implications of this activity on families, the economy
and the nation. The ultimate objective was to inform the public and make
recommendations to the nation's decision makers.
The final report sheds light on an activity that hasn't been studied
by the federal government in more than two decades. As such, it offers
many important findings and recommendations, which I'll provide in a moment.
But first, let me share my own conclusions based on the massive volume
of expert testimony, research findings and personal experiences provided
by concerned citizens. Each member of our Commission was allotted two pages
at the end of the report to write anything he or she wished, without contradiction
by the others. Here is the bottom line for me, after two years of work:
Summary Statement by Commissioner James C. Dobson, Ph.D.
'The central mission of the NGISC was to study the various implications
of gambling and to assess the scope of problem and pathological gambling
and its effects on individuals and families. The Commission's findings,
from any reasonable perspective, depict a depth of pain and devastation
in this country that compels a change in the way betting activity is regarded.
Clearly, gambling is a destroyer that ruins lives and wrecks families.
A mountain of evidence presented to our Commission demonstrates a direct
link between problem and pathological gambling and divorce, child abuse,
domestic violence, bankruptcy, crime and suicide.
More than 15.4 million adults and adolescents meet the technical criteria
of those disorders.(4) That is an enormous number -- greater than
the largest city in this country. When other activities, such as
smoking, have been shown to be harmful, the hue and cry for regulations
to warn and protect the public has been loud and long. Today, the
silence of most of our leaders about the risks of gambling is deafening.
It is well past time for a Paul Revere to sound the alarm. Gambling
is hazardous to your -- to our -- health!
There can be no doubt from the evidence that gambling -- like many compulsive
behaviors -- is addictive and progressive in nature. It is especially
dangerous to the young, who are enticed by exciting and risky behaviors.
Eighty-five percent of our young people are already gambling on everything
from card games to sports teams to casinos and lotteries.(5) Worse,
more than 15 percent have been shown to be problem or pathological gamblers.(6)
These statistics forewarn of even more serious gambling-related problems
in the future.
Some of the most troubling evidence received by the Commission concerned
the manner in which the gambling industry and its allies in government
work together to cultivate betting habits in the next generation.
In South Carolina, children have ready access to 30,000 video poker machines
located in convenience stores, pizza parlors and bowling alleys.(7)
South Carolina law does not prevent children from playing; it only prohibits
them from collecting any winnings.(8) Casino complexes appeal to
children with amusement rides and arcades that offer virtual copies of
adult casino games. At the same time, states promote lottery tickets
in almost every comer store while inundating the airwaves with get-rich-quick
fantasies. What kind of message are we sending to our children?
One of the most scandalous features of the gambling industry, engaged
in by many of our state governments, is the vigorous promotion of gambling
among the poor, less-educated and senior populations. Gambling is
touted as the ticket out of poverty, offering a last chance to riches.
As such, it overtly preys on the desperation of the poor by peddling false
The gambling industry also pours vast sums into campaign coffers of
gambling - friendly politicians. It is time for the public to scrutinize
those who are regularly jetted off to Las Vegas and other gambling centers
to pick up these enormous contributions. We must ask, what service
is being provided in return for this generosity? Republicans have
been given $6.1 million and Democrats $7.6 million in recent years.(9)
During the last election in California, nearly $100 million was spent by
casino interests to influence the outcome of various races and measures.(10)
(Note: House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo) went to Vegas to pick
up a $250,000 check(11) and President Bill Clinton raised $400,000 for
the Democratic National Committee in May! In addition, Senators Ted
Kennedy (D-Mass), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), Slade Gorton (R-Wa) and John
McCain (R-Ariz) all made fundraising trips to Vegas the week of our last
commission meeting. DNC Chairman Joe Andrew proudly proclaimed that
Democrats in Washington want to 'be the party of the gaming industry.'(12)
It is time for Americans to question their leaders about their linkage
to the gambling industry!)
In Summary, the illusion of pain-free riches promoted by the gambling
industry has been exposed. The very appeal of gambling belies the
claims of the gambling industry, which is sown in greed and the exploitation
of human weakness. It robs from the poor and exploits the most vulnerable.
It undermines the ethic of work, sacrifice and personal responsibility
that exemplify the best qualities of American society. And if you scratch
beneath the veneer of gambling-induced prosperity, the pain, despair and
hopelessness of problem and pathological gamblers will be recognized as
a stark tragedy.
The Commission has adopted numerous important -- indeed, critical --
recommendations for further research into the effects of gambling and for
corrective action to be adopted by state and tribal governments.
Among the most important are a moratorium on further expansion, a ban on
neighborhood gambling operations, restrictions on political contributions,
curbs on lotteries targeting the poor and their deceptive advertising practices,
and raising (and enforcing) the gambling age limit to 21 universally.
It is imperative that our government leaders immediately embrace these
This Commission's greatest legacy will be to change the way the American
public thinks about the harm associated with gambling. We must reject
the fantasy that wagering is innocuous entertainment and deal earnestly
with the destruction and pain that it causes to individuals, families and
I would like to thank my colleagues on the Commission, including our
gifted Chair, Mrs. Kay James, for having the courage to tackle this difficult
social problem. My prayer is that our effort will not have been in
Space limitations prevent me from quoting the comments submitted by
my eight colleagues, but let me share a statement written by the man whom
I believe to be the most respected member of our Commission, Mr. Richard
Leone. He is president of The Century Foundation, a Democrat, and a Clinton
appointee. I think his perspective is most appropriate to this discussion:
One secret of gambling's advocates is that they are tightly focused
about their goal. They often may wear blinders when it comes to the inevitable
by-product of more gambling - damaged lives and families. But they are
broad minded when it comes to alliances with political leaders in both
parties, and with representatives of both labor and management. Those of
us who are alarmed by gambling's spread and by the notion that it is merely
a harmless pastime can learn something from our opponents' strategy. In
fact, I believe that a majority of Americans, if they think seriously about
it, will find that they have common ground on this issue. Gambling should
be a bedrock issue for all conservatives who care about families and the
virtues of self-reliance and prudence; and it should be the same kind of
issue for liberals who also believe in families and the importance of fairness
and economic justice.
I join Dr. James Dobson in the belief that only an aroused and informed
public will change the nation's direction on gambling. He has battled in
the trenches on this subject for years. It is my profound hope that the
mutual respect that we have developed in the course of our deliberations
can be one small step toward forging the sort of broadly-based alliance
that compels attention from political leaders. In fact, the clear message
that should emerge from the work of our Commission is that the case for
more gambling is far weaker than is generally understood. It will not stand
scrutiny, and it will not succeed if people of good will join hands to
Given the overwhelming evidence of the harms of gambling, one might
wonder why the American people and their leaders have opened the
doors to this industry that wrecks families and undermines the work ethic.
The answer is money. Unfathomable amounts of money. As indicated in my
statement above, most politicians will dance for anyone who offers them
bushels of cash. It is what keeps them in office. "As for the acceptance
of gambling by the American people, the attitudinal changes we have seen
are being fueled by greed -- visions of 'getting rich quick' -- and also,
by manipulative advertising. This is how the system works:
When the industry targets an area for expansion, it hires the best-known
lobbyists and strategists available. Then they blanket the state with a
multi-million dollar public relations campaign. The emphasis is never on
gambling, per se, but on the supposed economic and social benefits that
casinos or the lottery will bring. A favorite ploy of lottery sponsors,
is to promise huge amounts of money for education. In reality, schools
do not profit much from the new source of revenue.(13) Since this money
is fungible, states simply reduce the educational budget by the amount
generated from the lottery or other forms of gambling. The net effect is
that the new funds wind up in the bands of state legislators to support
their pet projects. When concerned citizens begin asking questions about
what happened to the promised money for schools, they encounter gobbledygook
about inflation and federal spending programs and other factors that confuse
the picture. By then, gambling in that state has become entrenched and
it couldn't be removed by 'an the king's horses and all the king's men.
Exacerbating this problem is the fact that politicians, lured to the
promises of 'painless' tax revenues generated by gambling, have engaged
in heated competition with one another to see who can fleece the most money
out of their own citizenry (or, better yet, those from neighboring states).
Just as compulsive gamblers desperately attempt to 'chase' (win back) their
losses, politicians have engaged in a vicious cycle of 'chasing' gambling
revenues from their own constituents. In the process, they trample on the
welfare of the citizens they were supposedly elected to protect.
The most egregious example of this political exploitation occurred when
Colorado spent $25,000 on a study to find the best way to get its residents
to play the lottery more.(14) They discovered that certain types of people
were less likely to play the lottery. Initially, once they were hooked,
they remained hooked. Can you imagine state officials contracting with
behavioral researchers to figure out how to bilk the citizens who pay their
Something similar occurred in Maryland after officials proposed that
the state study how to entice the people to play the lottery more.(15)
As columnist Austin Abercrombie wrote, 'Traditionally, one of the legitimate
roles of a republican form of government is to protect its citizens against
harm, 'to promote the general welfare,' but state governments seem to be
redefining that role to one of 'how do we separate the sucker from his
Another tactic of gambling interests is to attack anyone who opposes
their agenda. Just ask former Governor David Beasley of South Carolina,(17)
or Fob James, former Governor of Alabama,(18) how they were ejected from
office. They were overwhelmed by contributions made to the campaigns of
their pro-gambling opponents, who are now seeking to expand gambling options
in their states. By this means, the electoral process is held hostage by
those with unlimited funds to influence the outcome.
I was aware when I was first appointed to the Commission that this machine
would also target me if I accepted, which is why our Board of Directors,
our senior staff, and even my very protective wife had misgivings about
my participation. Indeed, the deck appeared to be stacked in the beginning
(no pun intended). As anticipated, efforts were made to marginalize me
from the moment it was announced that I would participate. Las Vegas newspapers
and the American Gaming Association began attacking me personally.(19)
Several reporters wrote that I claimed not to have been appointed by Senators
Trent Lott and Dan Coats, but by God Himself.(20) This kind of ridicule
typically occurs whenever anyone opposes the onrush of gambling.
The industry also trained its many full-time lobbyists on the Congress
-- first by trying to defeat the legislation authorizing the Commission,
and when that failed, by demanding that its reach be limited. Certain senators
and representatives, notably those receiving the largest campaign contributions,
worked to deny us subpoena power, which could have been very useful. They
also secured three of the nine seats on the Commission, each representing
an aspect of what they call 'gaming' in Nevada. That was tantamount to
appointing representatives from the American Tobacco Company and R.J. Reynolds
to serve on a commission to study the harmful effects of smoking. This
placed us in a difficult position from the beginning. Investigating a complex
social phenomenon such as gambling is challenging enough when every member
is committed to learning the facts. It is almost impossible when a third
or more seemed motivated to protect the lucrative industry in which they
Nevada Senator Richard Bryan was particularly aggressive. He attempted
to frustrate the Commission by demanding that the General Accounting Office
conduct an audit of our staff.(21) The result was hundreds of hours of
unnecessary work and expense. The audit resulted in a clean bill of health
for the Commission, Chair Kay James, and the staff.(22) Bryan's phony charges
were nothing more than harassment from a senator who is beholden to the
gambling industry. Senator Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), is another who attempted
to discredit the Commission.(23)
The good news is that we managed to fulfill our mission, despite the
impediments and our profound differences. Though it may appear contradictory
to what I have written, I developed a genuine respect for all eight of
my fellow commissioners and consider them to be my friends today. On a
few issues, it turned out that those with whom I agree had a 5 to 4 advantage,
but on many others -- especially relating to lotteries and so-called 'convenience
gambling' -- there was often unanimity. The result was a credible report
which I am pleased to endorse.
Until now, there has been no reliable body of evidence from which policymakers
and citizens could make rational, informed decisions regarding gambling.
In fact, many of the studies that exist prior to this time have been paid
for by the gambling industry. Grassroots organizations that opposed gambling
have been overrun by the money and influence of its proponents.
Given the lack of factual information until now, I believe our report
will be a watershed in the gambling debate. I will be the first to admit
that it doesn't provide all of the answers, but it does cast light on some
of the darker aspects of this activity.
Now, what did our Commission find? In addition to the conclusions already
shared, we were unanimous in calling for more research and for greater
efforts to treat afflicted individuals. Gambling entrepreneurs and state
treasuries make tremendous profits from compulsive gamblers. In fact, our
survey of 530 patrons at gambling establishments around the country found
that more than 13 percent were problem or pathological gamblers, while
another 18 percent were classified as 'at risk.' If those numbers are accurate,
31 percent of all people patronizing casinos and other gambling facilities
are in trouble. By contrast, states contribute only a pittance (one-tenth
of one percent) of the money they rake in from gambling -- a substantial
amount of which comes from addicts -- to help those harmed by it. It is
time that the various gambling entities and the states that feed on troubled
individuals begin cleaning up the mess they have created. We hope to help
bring about that change.
Yet no matter how many dollars are contributed for the prevention and
treatment of gambling addiction, many individuals and families will continue
to pay a tremendous price as a result of gambling's proliferation. Our
research revealed that the vast majority of gambling addicts will not seek
treatment, and those who do usually come to that decision only after having
'bottomed out,' causing immense pain and devastation to themselves and
their loved ones. Further, gambling addiction is very difficult -- and
expensive -- to treat successfully.
Behind each one of those who are addicted is a real face, a real family,
a real story I will continue to be haunted by the, dozens of personal accounts
of ruin and despair that I heard during our work. Chairman (and Focus on
the Family board member) Kay Coles James -- who, by the way, did an unbelievable
job of keeping our very diverse and opinionated group of Commissioners
working together -- asked that I submit a number of personal testimonies
for inclusion in the final report. Many of those came from people who contacted
our ministry and were willing to relate their experience in the Commission's
report. The stories shared with Focus on the Family would fill a book.
In fact I know some of you are also addicted. We are very concerned about
you and hope you will contact your pastor or a counselor in your area.
If you need help finding someone who can assist, please call our Counseling
Department at Focus on the Family (1-800-A-FAMILY).
All told, our Commission made roughly 70 recommendations to Congress,
the states and the leaders of tribal governments. One of out most important
conclusions was that it is not a good idea to cram gambling into every
community in America, although many in the industry seem intent on doing
just that. That is why a majority of the Commissioners called for a 'moratorium'
on further gambling expansion until more is known about its effects on
families and communities.
Several other Commission recommendations also touched on this point,
including urging state lotteries and racetracks to stop the current trend
of expanding into casino-style games. The strongest recommendation, however,
was that states should 'cease and roll back' so-called 'convenience gambling'
Other specific recommendations included the following:
Clearly, the Commission has made the gambling industry nervous. This was
evident to me by the large numbers of gambling lobbyists and representatives
who swarmed around each of our meetings. Indeed, this spring there was
a rash of campaigns in many states to expand gambling before our findings
ATMs and credit machines should be removed from gambling areas.
Internet gambling should be banned.
All betting on collegiate and amateur sporting events should be prohibited
(Casinos in Nevada allow high-stakes gambling on college and amateur athletics).
Before a state or community can expand gambling, it should be required
to fund a 'comprehensive gambling impact statement' to understand the true
costs of so doing.
Warnings about the dangers of gambling, as well as the odds, should be
posted prominently in every gambling establishment.
Federal truth-in-advertising laws should be applied to state lotteries.
Penalties and enforcement efforts regarding underage gambling should be
The oversight and regulation of Native American gambling (which has, until
now, been very loosely regulated) should be strengthened.
Each gambling facility must implement procedures to allow gambling addicts
to voluntarily ban themselves from entering such facilities.
Political contributions from gambling companies should be restricted.
Some gambling opponents believe we are fighting a lost cause. They contend
that the industry simply has too much power and influence. They fear our
Commission's final report will simply gather dust on a shelf somewhere
in Washington, D.C. In some ways, I can understand their pessimism. It
seems that our culture has embraced gambling uncritically. Even the Christian
community (with a few notable exceptions) has not been exercised enough
to resist this powerful wave.
Still, I remain optimistic. I believe that, if presented with the facts
about gambling, Americans will begin to make decisions in the best interests
of their communities and their families. It will be a long, hard battle
-- but one worth fighting -- to reverse the course on which we have been
heading. Twice before, historians tell us, America has gone down this road,
only to reverse course after seeing the corrupt fruit produced by gambling.(24)
But it will be incumbent upon each of us to assist in that process.
Parents, I urge you to warn your children about the dangers of gambling.
Pastors, I hope you will talk to your congregations about this destructive
vice (In fact, Focus on the Family has a suggested sermon outline on this
topic, which can be obtained by calling 1-800-A-FAMILY. Each of us must
also share with our family, friends and other acquaintances the truth about
gambling's devastating consequences. We must also be there to minister
to those individuals and families victimized by gambling. This victory
will ultimately be won not at the legislative level; it will only be achieved
if and when we can prevail upon the hearts and minds of the American public.
I want to close by thanking all of you who prayed for me during this
difficult assignment. Those prayers by our friends and by the staff of
Focus on the Family sustained me and my fellow Commissioners. I firmly
believe they made a difference in the outcome of our work. Finally, I would
like to thank Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va), without whose work in passing the
enabling legislation our Commission would never have existed. He stood
virtually alone against the gambling lobby for nearly two years. If you
would like to see a copy of the final report, you can obtain it on the
Internet at www.ngisc.gov. I should also note that Focus on the Family
has a number of informational resources regarding the consequences of legalized
gambling that you can find at www.family.org/gambling.
God's richest blessings to you and your loved ones this summer. Please
stop by and see us if your travels take you out this way, we'll treat you
James C. Dobson, Ph.D.
1. Patricia McQueen, "North American Gaming at a Glance,"
International Gaming and Wagering Business, September 1998, p. 2.
2. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of
the United States, 1997, (117th edition), Washington D.C., 1997, p. 769;
Eugene Martin Christensen, "A New Entitlement," International Gaming and
Wagering Business, August 1998, p. 3.
3. According to Gamblers Anonymous International Service
Office, the number of GA chapters in the United States has increased from
650 in 1990 to 1,328 in October of 1998. Information provided by Gamblers
International Service Office, March 23, 1999. Also see
Howard J. Shaffer, Matthew N. Hall, Joni Vander Bilt, "Estimating the Prevalence
of Disordered Gambling Behavior in the United States and Canada: A Meta-Analysis,"
Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions, December 15, 1997, p. 43
and Rachel A. Volberg, "Gambling and Problem Gambling in Iowa: A Replication
Survey," Iowa Department of Human Services, July 28, 1995.
4. Howard J. Schaeffer, Matthew N. Hall, Joni Vander
Bilt, op.cit, p. 51.
5. "Pathological Gambling: A Critical Review," National
Research Council, pp. 3-9.
6. Ibid, pp. 3-10.
7. Viveca Novak, They Call it Video Crack," Time, June
1, 1998, p. 58.
8. Testimony of Dr. Frank Quinn, Carolina Psychiatric
Services, Columbia, S.C., before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission,
Las Vegas, Nevada, November 10, 1998.
9. Brett Pulley, "Casinos increase Their Contributions
to U.S. Campaigns," The New York Times, March 23, 1998.
10. "Ballot Measure Campaigns Set Record for 1998," Associated
Press, May 26, 1999 and Virginia Ellis, "Tribes Emerge as Powerful Players
in State Politics," Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1998.
11. Jonathan D. Salant, "Gambling Firms Betting on Lawmakers'
Support; GOP and Democratic Wined, Dined and Funded," Associated Press,
June 7, 1999.
12. Jeff German, "Casinos Rip Restrictions on Political
Donations," Las Vegas Sun, June 3, 1999.
13. Peter Keating, "Lotto Fever: We All Lose!" Money,
May 1996, pp. 144, 147; Donald E. Miller and Patrick A. Pierce, "Lotteries
for Education: Windfall or Hoax?" State and Local Government Review, Winter
1997, pp. 40-41.
14. Ann Carnahan, "Lottery Analyzing Players' Brains,"
Rocky Mountain News, July 8, 1997, p. 6A.
15. Charles Babington and Ira Chinoy, "Lotteries Lure
Players with Slick Marketing," The Washington Post, May 4, 1998, p. A1.
16. Austin Abercrombie, "Lottery is a Losing Bet for
the State," Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald, May 29, 1999, p. 7A.
17. Edward Walsh, "Gambling's Election Win," The Washington
Post, November 6, 1998, p. Al.
18. "Election State-by-State," Associated Press,, November
19. "Dobson's Zealotry is a Waste," Las Vegas Sun, January
7, 1999; Jeff German, "Dobson's Diatribe Mars Work of Fed Panel," Las Vegas
Sun, January 10, 1999; Statement by Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., President
and CEO of the American Gaming Association, January 30, 1998.
20. Gary Thompson, "Gamers, Urged to Unite in D.C." Las
Vegas Sun, December 5, 1996. "Surviving Uncle Sam," International Gaming
and Wagering Business, March 1997.
21. Tony Batt, "Government Accounting Office Plans Audit
of Federal Gambling Study Panel," Las Vegas Review Journal, October 20,
22. Tony Batt, "GAO Finds in Favor of Panel," Las Vegas
Review Journal, April 20, 1999.
23. "All in All, A Good Bet: Casinos Have Been a Plus
for Atlantic City," Asbury Park Press, February 1, 1998.
24. Richard McGowan, "The Rise of Casino Gaming," The
World I, March 1997, pp. 289-299; I. Nelson Rose, "Gambling and the Law:
Endless Field of Dreams," Journal of Gambling Studies, Spring 1995, pp.