A $5 Million Camel

19 January 2000
It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

Then what are we to make of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission's Final Report?

Considering half the Commissioners were rabidly, sometimes secretly, anti-gambling, without having ever played a hand of blackjack, perhaps it was not a horse they were designing -- maybe something closer to a jackass.

And a shoddy one at that.

Two years of work and $5 million just does not buy what it used to.

The Final Report is being called the James Report, after the Commission's Chair, Kay Coles James. James does appear to deserve most of the blame.

In these days of affirmative action and political correctness, an objective observer has to ask why the Chair was someone whose entire knowledge of legal gambling came from playing a slot machine, once, in an Atlantic City casino. Could her appointment by the Republican leadership have had anything to do with the fact that she describes herself as "a black, female, pro-life, evangelical, conservative Republican"?

Almost before the ink on the Final Report was dry, James was admitting to the press, "Yes, I am anti-gambling. But I had to set that aside to make this process work."


James' overwhelming goal, to further her own political career, was to get an unanimous vote on everything.

On CBS, James announced that the Commission had "unanimously voted" for a moratorium. J. Terrence Lanni, CEO of MGM Grand, who fought--and voted--against the moratorium recommendation, because he knew how silly it would look, thought James' description of the 5-4 vote was a bit off: "When I went to school, that wasn't unanimous."

James actually thinks it was an accomplishment to get Commissioners with ties to Nevada casinos to agree with anti-gambling fanatics. "In the end, the unanimous adoption of this Report speaks for itself."

It certainly does.

The only way these Commissioners would vote the same way is if the proposal were meaningless. The James Report is so light-weight that you have to put a brick on it to prevent it from floating away.

"The Commission recommends that tribes, states, and local governments should continue to work together to resolve issues of mutual concern rather than relying on federal law to solve problems for them." Gosh, if we had only thought of that sooner, think how about many law suits would have been avoided.

A common enemy also brings foes together. The recommendation of a total prohibition of Internet gambling was, in the language of the Report, "unanimously endorsed by every member."

But state lotteries were made the sacrificial scapegoat. Lotteries alone are described as running "full-blown, glitzy advertising campaigns." The Commission recommended that the federal government gather data on lotteries alone: "including volume of purchase, demographics of lottery players" and the "nature, content, accuracy, and type of advertising spending regarding problem gamblers."

The most amazing thing about the James Report is that it is filled with factual errors. As much as I like reporters--my wife is a journalist--multi-million-dollar government studies cannot rely on what someone said in a newspaper or on the Internet. Researchers have to check for themselves.

Good ideas, like having insurance cover treatment for pathological gambling and allowing players to ban themselves from a casino, are buried under mountains of inaccurate generalities.

Dean Hestermann, manager of policy analysis and research for Harrah's Entertainment, put it this way, "The most startling thing about the Commission's report in my opinion is not any 'finding' or specific 'recommendation,' but the loose rhetoric and lack of intellectual rigor that, as an American, I find embarrassing."

Major factual errors appear every few pages. For example, the Report state s that:

  • Texas and Nebraska have authorized casinos - they have not.
  • The California State Lottery operates Electronic Gaming Devices - it does not and never has.
  • State lottery advertising campaigns target "people in impoverished neighborhoods" - they actually target heavy traffic areas and are tied to retail outlets.
  • South Africa licenses Internet gambling - it does not.
  • Sports gambling is legal in just two states - it is legal in at least nine.
  • Web pages "promoting tourism to large casinos" are hard to distinguish from web sites offering "real-time betting" - maybe for someone who cannot tell a TV commercial from a slot machine.

Look at this typical sentence: "Delaware and Montana are allowed to have sports books by statute, but currently neither state offers legalized sports wagering." Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Delaware and Montana, in fact, prohibit sports books by statute. But Montana does offer legalized sports wagering: Legal sport tab games are popular in Butte and Anaconda and legal sports pools are in operation throughout the state, as are legal fantasy sports leagues. The Montana State Lottery is authorized to run sports pools and authorized organizations can operate Calcutta pools, a form of pari-mutuel wagering, on amateur, college and professional sports events.

How about this, from the Report's Glossary: "Craps: A game of chance in which a player throws two dice. If the total of the two dice is 7 or 11, then the player wins." That's it, the full definition.

The James Report is a waste of paper.

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I. Nelson Rose

Articles by Professor I. Nelson Rose is an internationally known scholar, public speaker and writer and is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on gambling law. A 1979 graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a tenured full Professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California, where he teaches one of the first law school classes on gaming law. Professor Rose is the author of more than 300 books, articles, book chapters columns. He is best known for his internationally syndicated column, "Gambling and the Law ®," and his landmark 1986 book by the same name. His most recent book is a collection of columns and analysis, co-authored with Bob Loeb, on Blackjack and the Law. A consultant to governments and industry, Professor Rose has testified as an expert witness in administrative, civil and criminal cases in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, and has acted as a consultant to major law firms, international corporations, licensed casinos, players, Indian tribes, and local, state and national governments, including Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and the federal governments of Canada and the United States. With the rising interest in gambling throughout the world, Professor Rose has spoken before such diverse groups as the F.B.I., National Conference of State Legislatures, Congress of State Lotteries of Europe, United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Academy of Sciences. He has presented scholarly papers on gambling in Nevada, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, England, Australia, Antigua, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and the Czech Republic. He is the author of Internet Gaming Law (1st & 2nd editions), Blackjack and the Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials.

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